Jim Fossel: The national debt is getting scarier and scarier

If you want a spooky costume for your kids on Monday, tell them to dress up as a Democratic politician running a budget – any budget, any level of government, anywhere in the United States – because that is by far the most terrifying thing that happens. now.

Yes, we live in terrifying times. The world seems on the verge of collapse, with the war in Europe raising the stakes between the nuclear powers. If that scares you too immediately, there are a number of disasters you can fear, thanks to fearmongering politicians on both sides of the aisle: climate change, immigration, COVID-19, economics – take your pick. bag, depending on your ideological preference (or, possibly, what you ate last night).

It’s no coincidence: A shrewd politician in the age of social media knows that the key to winning hearts and minds isn’t painting a vision of a positive future, but terrifying people so that they submit. In a way, this isn’t new: it’s something tyrants use frequently on their way to power.

So, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but there’s something else you should be afraid of. And it’s a more legitimate fear than many of the aforementioned potential calamities. This has been a slowly building disaster throughout my life, a disaster that politicians of both parties used to at least occasionally pretend to worry about, but lately have completely given up on: the national debt .

Before I say, but wait, when Bill Clinton was president, he (together with Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who is rarely mentioned in this context) wrote off the national debt. We were, you might believe, a debt-free nation for a brief moment in the 1990s, around the time that MTV was still playing music on TV.

Well, sorry, we weren’t. We have never been without debt. Instead, the deficit did not exist for a few brief years at the time, theoretically allowing us to begin paying down the debt. In a nutshell: the national deficit is the difference between what we spend and what we take in, whether it’s annually, daily or otherwise – choose a period. The national debt is the total amount of money we owe for all the years we have had a deficit. It’s somewhat analogous to the difference between your total credit card debt and not making enough money to pay your regular monthly bills, like rent.

I understood? OK fine. This difference is important.

The New York Times recently reported – on its front page, surprisingly – that the national debt has topped $31 trillion for the first time. It’s no surprise: Under Presidents Joe Biden and Donald Trump, the federal government has spent huge amounts of money, they assure us, to keep the economy from collapsing during the pandemic — or, you know, because they wanted it.

The problem is not necessarily that we spent freely during a crisis. It’s that we always spend freely when a crisis comes, and we never tighten our belts when it’s over.

Think of all the other crises over the years. The 2007-2008 recession, the September 11 attacks, the subsequent invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. Whether all these decisions were wise or not, they were not paid for by budget cuts or tax increases, either during or after the crisis. Instead, the national debt has been mounting, in both Republican and Democratic administrations, for a variety of reasons.

At the state level, we observed a similar pattern of behavior. Here in Maine, we never have any outstanding debt and only briefly run a deficit because, unlike the federal government, our state constitution requires us to balance our budget. That’s a good thing, and even if you don’t think the federal government should take such a step, surely it’s reasonable that they try to pay down the debt when times are good and we can afford it. Unfortunately, they never do.

At the state level, we face a different problem: taxes and spending are constantly rising and rarely falling. Sure, the budget can balance, but it rarely contracts. With a few exceptions, tax cuts passed in 2010 and state budget spending in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2015. Neither party is fiscally responsible enough, but, especially in the Maine, Republicans have always been more reliable in managing the budget than Democrats. .

Jim Fossel, a conservative Gardiner activist, worked for Senator Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:
[email protected]
Twitter: @jimfossel

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