The American Scene

An ongoing review of politics and culture


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America Is Broke

Though I’ve been hard on Republican politicians for their dearth of policy ideas — basically I agree with what Ross Douthat writes here and here — what I find even more galling on alternate nights is the utter disregard the Democrats now in power have for America’s fiscal future. Do they have any plan to prevent our impoverishment?

You’d think after rightly complaining about the Bush Administration’s unprecedented irresponsibility for eight years, leading Democrats would understand that we’re trapped in a terrible hole, but instead they just keep digging, figuring that while they’re in power, why not lobby for a massive new health care entitlement, game its scoring to make its cost seem more palatable to voters, and pay for it by pretending that it won’t cost any more than what we currently spend. Does anyone who argues it’ll all be deficit neutral in the end, or that costs will go down, want to wager on that proposition? (Update on the prior paragraph: I’m told that any talk of costs going down is actually shorthand for slowing the rate of increase.)

But quite apart from health care — their being no sense in you dismissing this post if you merely disagree with me on that single example — is there anything approaching an appropriate amount of attention being dedicated to this:

Treasury officials now face a trifecta of headaches: a mountain of new debt, a balloon of short-term borrowings that come due in the months ahead, and interest rates that are sure to climb back to normal as soon as the Federal Reserve decides that the emergency has passed.
Even as Treasury officials are racing to lock in today’s low rates by exchanging short-term borrowings for long-term bonds, the government faces a payment shock similar to those that sent legions of overstretched homeowners into default on their mortgages.
With the national debt now topping $12 trillion, the White House estimates that the government’s tab for servicing the debt will exceed $700 billion a year in 2019, up from $202 billion this year, even if annual budget deficits shrink drastically. Other forecasters say the figure could be much higher.
In concrete terms, an additional $500 billion a year in interest expense would total more than the combined federal budgets this year for education, energy, homeland security and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The previous paragraph warrants three pages of exclamation points. Republicans may be full of it when they promise that if returned to power they’ll cut spending and pay down the debt, but at least they recognize the need for those measures, and that they’re an appropriate priority.

It’s almost enough to rally me behind Glenn Beck’s 100 Year Plan. Ha ha, okay, I’m just kidding with you about that last part, it isn’t even close to enough. But if I could replace 10 Senators and 75 Congressmen chosen at random with Ron Paul clones right now I’d do it.