Wednesday, January 09, 2008

I’m Sorry Mr. Obama—No You Can’t

"I sincerely believe... that the principle of spending money to be paid by posterity under the name of funding is but swindling futurity on a large scale."
Thomas Jefferson, 1816

I’m sure you all got goose bumps from Senator Barack Obama’s “Yes We Can” not-quite-a-concession speech last night. Some compared it to John F. Kennedy or Bill Clinton. But to me, with the cadence and the Baptist preacher resonance, Mr. Obama’s “Yes We Can” sounded a little like Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream.” In any event, it was a thrilling speech and it left Mr. Obama’s supporters determined to capture and change our government.

I’m afraid, however, that Mr. Obama is raising hopes in his supporters and is making promises he cannot possibly fulfill. And it’s not just Obama. All of the candidates for president are likewise encouraging us to believe that they are going to end poverty, that they will provide universal health care, that they will cut taxes for the middle class, that they will do all kinds of wonderful things to bring “change” to this country. Unfortunately, just chanting “Yes We Can” will not change the reality that we can’t do most of what the candidates are preaching because we just can’t afford it.

Last night I went to the Department of the Treasury’s website and learned that our Federal Government is in debt to the tune of $9,199,557,987,743.58. In plain words, we owe nine trillion, one hundred ninety nine billion, five hundred fifty seven million, nine hundred eighty seven thousand, seven hundred forty three dollars and fifty eight cents. I don’t know about you, but despite my experience and expertise I am unable to contemplate nine trillion dollars. I don’t think that I have ever carried more than two hundred bucks in my wallet at one time. Let’s just say that nine trillion is a bit more than that. In the words of the immortal Everett Dirksen, we are talking about real money.

What is the result of this enormous debt? Each year our government pays over two hundred twenty billion dollars in interest. Do you have any idea of how much health care we could buy for $220,000,000,000? Can you imagine how many times we could fly to the moon? Think of how many of our children we could send to college for free. Let your mind drift and imagine what we could accomplish with those two hundred twenty billion dollars. Yet, that is the amount we will pay this year and every year just to pay interest on our debt. It is money for which we will get nothing.

And just in case you think that debt is going away, keep in mind that we have trillions of dollars of unfunded promises that we are going to have to pay to our citizens in the next twenty years. Everybody expects Medicare to be there for them. Everybody expects that Social Security will be there for them. Where, I ask, is the money going to come from? Are there enough governments, corporations and individuals in the world who will want to continue lending us money in the future to pay the amount of our yearly commitments? Or, will we need massive tax increases to keep our government solvent. Or, is it possible that the United States of America will end up defaulting on its debt?

Have you heard any candidate even hint at our debt crisis? No! You can’t make promises to get yourself elected if you admit that the government can’t afford what your are promising. Republicans don’t want to talk about the debt because a Republican president and a Republican congress have increased our debt by almost three and a half trillion dollars since January 20, 2001. Democrats don’t want to talk about the debt because to admit the crisis would dampen all their plans.

So, we just go on with business as usual and celebrate when our annual deficit gets lower than two hundred billion dollars. Nobody plans for a way to bring our debt under control. Nobody talks about the real sacrifices we will have to endure over the next several years.

Each year that our government operates at a deficit, we are levying a tax of the amount of that deficit on our grandchildren. None of the Bush tax cuts were real cuts; they were just tax deferrals to be paid some day in the future, when you and I are dead.

Is there any way out? Well, it won’t be nearly as easy as it would have been had the Bush Administration continued the debt reduction strategies worked out by the Clinton Administration and the Republican-controlled House of Representatives in the late 1990s. There is still time to act, although it will not be painless. We need to increase taxes. We need to restructure all our entitlement programs to reduce the unpayable promises we have made.

So what do you and I do? First we need to get more information. We need to go to the Fiscal Wake-up Tour by the Government Accountability Office ( We then need to start asking the hard questions of all the presidential candidates. While we’re at it we need to start asking the same questions of our federal senators and representatives. We owe it to our grandchildren.

There does not exist an engine so corruptive of the government and so demoralizing of the nation as a public debt. It will bring on us more ruin at home than all the enemies from abroad…
Thomas Jefferson, 1821

1 comment:

HEK said...

Well, said, sir, laid on with a trowel.

Nobody is talking about this problem and the entire country is living in denial. Then one day, we'll wake up to the reality that we're broke and everybody will be looking for somebody to blame -- except themselves.

That's when they start hunting up someone like Mussolini who'll make the trains run on time but defers all troubles to outsiders and people whose color/religion we don't like.

Oh. Guess I'm too late.