Jul 27 2019
There is a quote that’s long been attributed to St. Augustine, who during his conversion to Christianity famously uttered a prayer asking “Lord, help me be chaste, but not yet.” The idea behind this as old as human nature itself: it’s easier to have the thought of doing something later than to do that thing now, especially when it’s something difficult. And unfortunately, the longer you delay it, the harder it often gets.
Unfortunately, the budget, spending, and debt limit deal that the Senate voted on this week was a prime example of this. This bill blows past budget caps, raises spending, and temporarily suspends the public debt limit for two years – at a point in time when the federal government is already trillions of dollars in debt.
It is understandable why politicians want to support greater government spending. There are simply no easy options for cutting spending; they’re all difficult. And raising spending usually garners praise from both the press and constituents.
But that doesn’t mean we can pretend things are different than they are. We might be able to suspend the debt ceiling and waive the budget rules, but we cannot ignore the laws of mathematics. And the farther we kick the can down the road, the worse off we will be.
How did we get into this situation with our expanding debt? It didn’t always used to be this way.
Historically, during a number of periods of crisis in American history – namely, major wars and recessions – we accumulated more debt as a percentage of our gross domestic product (GDP). But in each of these instances, there was a distinct reason as to why we took on more debt; and once those reasons went away, our debt would go back down.
But in recent years, something different has happened. We have come out of the Great Recession, and have been enjoying one of the longest economic recoveries in history. We are at the very top of the business cycle and have near record-low unemployment levels. We are not in involved in a world war and we’re in a period of relative peace. And it’s expected that we will soon see a moment in history when we’ve never before brought in more money into the federal government’s coffers.
And yet, we have record-breaking deficits and our debt continues to rise.
What has been at the root of this phenomenon? Our government has grown enormously large and become enormously expensive. And for a long time, it has been spending a lot more money than it takes in – lately, to the tune of many hundreds of billions of dollars a year. Americans work months out of every year just to be able to pay their federal taxes, only to be told that our nation is still $22 trillion in debt.
It begs the question, if we can’t control spending now when the economy is performing as well as it possibly can, then when can we? What will happen when we enter a period of true crisis again? To borrow the phrase from John F. Kennedy, “If not us, who? If not now, when?”
And the more we try to delay responding to this problem, the more we are burdening future generations of Americans. If we have to suspend the debt ceiling now, we are essentially transferring the responsibility of financing our current government to our children and grandchildren, for debt accumulated before they were even born.
This is, in other words, a pernicious form of taxation without representation. We fought and won a war over that injustice, and it is not something we should be deliberately forcing on future Americans.
It’s true that there will not be any easy solutions for responding to this building problem. But the budget bill that passed the Senate week – which only paves the way for further deepening our debt – is certainly not the right course of action.
Is it going to be any easier to deal with this problem in the future than it is now? I think not. If not us, who? If not now, when?
That is why I voted against this bill this week, so we can at least start making steps in the right direction.