Please bear with me while I pose a few logical questions to my readers.
First, how many of us, when we find ourselves strapped financially, have the option of borrowing and spending our way to prosperity?
Next, are we somehow empowered to seize or otherwise take the assets of our wealthier neighbors by taxing their wealth?
Third in my line of queries: What lending institution, or individual for that matter, will offer capital without collateral or lend to one who has demonstrated no obvious interest in curbing an insatiable habit for spending?
If your answers are zero/none to each of the questions, you are like me and the rest of the citizens of the U.S. — expected to live within our means. It is not possible to continue spending more than one takes in.
Conversely, if we were to imitate the present – and some past – administrations, we would have long ago liquidated our savings and maxed out our credit cards to spend our way out of debt.
Somehow, I doubt that Pinkney C. Walker, Mizzou's legendary professor of economics in the 1950s and ’60s, would subscribe to that theory as fiscally sound.
This in a nutshell is the dilemma in which the U.S. finds itself: the necessity to raise the debt ceiling’s currently mandated limit by $2.5 trillion from its present total of more than $14 trillion.
Both political parties agree the limit must be increased; however, until the last couple of weeks, the administration has argued that Congress should vote the increased limit as a “clean debt-limit hike” without a commensurate commitment to reduce the growth of spending.
That this path is unsustainable should be obvious to anyone required to balance a checkbook.
Since January 2009, the national debt has increased by one-third, from $10.6 trillion to $14.3 trillion. The notion that we can capriciously raise the borrowing limit without a concurrent dramatic cut in spending borders on the absurd.
The threat of the U.S. defaulting on interest or principal Treasury obligations notwithstanding, incurring indebtedness of this magnitude without adding a measure of fiscal responsibility is a disaster looking for a place to happen.
President Barack Obama, albeit somewhat belatedly, has entered the debate, agreeing that reducing government spending is a necessity. However, he wants a tax increase of $1 trillion, levied primarily against the millionaires and billionaires earning more than $250,000 per year.
This flies in the face of the Republican majority in the House and minority in the Senate who are standing firm on their pledge of not raising taxes. When closing out 2010, raising taxes in a weak economy was deemed counterproductive. What economic improvements have altered that reality?
While both parties share much of the blame for the profligate spending that got us to this point, the inaction and hypocrisy of the Democrats are inexcusable.
To equate with a straight face an annual income of $250,000 with the status of millionaire/billionaire is pure political class warfare, pitting the middle class against the rich, while the near-half of the public who pay no income tax range from ambivalent to anti-wealthy.
And, the president’s scare tactics in intimating to Social Security recipients, military retirees and others who receive a government check that they may not be paid come August is fear mongering 101.
Yes, I am placing the bulk of the criticism on the Democrats, but it is richly earned.
From the end of 2008 until 2010, they held the presidency and both houses of Congress, and from January 2011 to the present, they boasted both the presidency and a majority in the Senate.
This alliance has run unsustainable deficits of $1.5 trillion annually, while Democrats in Congress have failed to submit a budget for two years.
The president’s February budget increased the deficit to such a degree that it was rejected by the Senate by a vote of 97-0.
Admittedly, almost all of the players would like to see a measure of debt and spending responsibility. The Democrats are adamant that entitlements (Social Security, Medicare, etc.) are not to be touched, while the Republicans are equally against raising taxes.
The president’s latest position includes significant cuts but is larded with tax hikes for revenue that most economists look upon as job-killing.
It appears the president and his party prefer to let it ride without making waves through the 2012 elections as politically expedient – by playing a game of chicken, gambling that the opposition blinks first.
As the incumbent, the president holds most of the aces, but the voting public is viewing firsthand that the status quo is not working nor has the spending binge produced jobs.
Republicans have indicated a willingness to consider serious entitlement reform to include means testing, increasing the age for Social Security and both corporate and individual tax reform to eliminate ambiguities in loopholes and create lower tax rates.
At this writing, the president has rejected any temporary debt ceiling hike of three or six months, demanding the whole enchilada or nothing.
While the notion that the U.S. will default on its Treasury debt if the ceiling is not lifted by Aug. 2 is considered overstated, the omen of an impending train wreck creates unnecessary unease.
It took far too long to get serious about the problem — where are the statesmen of the 1970s? Democratic Speaker Tip O’Neill, Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield and Republican Minority Leaders John Rhodes in the House and Hugh Scott in the Senate could rise above partisanship when the ship of state was foundering.
We are long past the point where increased revenue through taxation can even make a dent in the debt. People are fed up with the eternal bickering and political one-upmanship.
It is time for the grown-ups to step forward.
J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at JKarlUSMC@aol.com.