The recent budget fight is simply a precursor of what must be done. Both sides are still playing small ball, messing with discretionary spending, when the huge entitlement bomb is going to cause our demise. While Democratis cry about “cruel” budgets, our debt will go up more this week (about $50B) than the $38B or so that Congress was able to agree to cut. We’re using bandaids and aspirin when wholesale amputation and emergency surgery is required. Columnist Robert Samuelson put the matter well in his column today:
We in America have created suicidal government; the threatened federal shutdown and stubborn budget deficits are but symptoms. By suicidal, I mean that government has promised more than it can realistically deliver and, as a result, repeatedly disappoints by providing less than people expect or jeopardizing what they already have. But government can’t easily correct its excesses, because Americans depend on it for so much that any effort to change the status arouses a firestorm of opposition that virtually ensures defeat. Government’s very expansion has brought it into disrepute, paralyzed politics and impeded it from acting in the national interest.
Few Americans realize the extent of their dependency. The Census Bureau reports that in 2009 almost half (46.2 percent) of the 300 million Americans received at least one federal benefit: 46.5 million, Social Security; 42.6 million, Medicare; 42.4 million, Medicaid; 36.1 million, food stamps; 3.2 million, veterans’ benefits; 12.4 million, housing subsidies.
While Paul Krugman cries that Obama is a wimp and Republicans are cruel, it is our continued, insane-level of deficit spending that is cruel. It has real practical consequences today ($5 gas) and tomorrow (a shrinking, sclerotic, no jobs economy). There are signs of seriousness and hope among both voters (the Tea Party) and politicians (Paul Ryan, for example), but one wonders if the stars can align for the kind of serious courage needed to get this sorted out before we have a real Greek-style meltdown.