Douglas: The Federal Deficit

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(HOST) Today, we have a new commentator. Former Vermont Governor Jim Douglas has been thinking about fiscal responsibility and the federal debt.

(DOUGLAS)  Dorothy and I became grandparents for the first time two years ago. As I looked at the small child in the crib, I thought about what kind of future he’ll confront, particularly the huge fiscal hole our national leaders have dug and its impact on generations to come. Welcome to the world, I said; your share of the Federal debt is $50,000.
Here in Vermont we always balance our budget. We’ve certainly had our battles, but, in the end, we conclude each  session with a balanced bottom line and a little in the bank. Even in tough times, we’ve resisted the temptation to pass the buck to our children.
At the Federal level, though, there has been little such discipline, and the patience of the American people is wearing thin. There’s a growing awareness of the impact of huge deficits, a debt approaching $15 trillion, spending at levels of nations on the brink of default and debt service that is projected to quadruple in the coming decade. What’s lacking is the commitment on the part of policymakers to make the difficult but necessary choices to avert a fiscal and economic calamity that our grandkids will inherit.
Under the President’s recently submitted budget, interest payments on the debt will exceed almost every other budget item in 2014.  A few years after that, interest expense will be bigger than Medicare. Only Social Security and the Pentagon will require more money.
The Feds are borrowing to pay interest on money they borrowed earlier. If our government were a person, he or she would be referred for credit counseling.
While this frightening scenario unfolds, there’s little evidence of real courage to put on the brakes. Both the President’s budget and the recently passed House budget deal only with the 12% that is non-defense discretionary spending.  Leaders in both parties are refusing to consider proposals to move toward sustainability. Unless folks in Congress stop drawing lines in the sand and put everything on the table, we’ll never make the progress the American people deserve.
Fortunately there are some willing to try. The President’s bipartisan Bowles-Simpson Commission came up with a plan to address the huge fiscal dilemma we face. Regrettably his budget excluded most of their recommendations. Another group, the Domenici-Rivlin Commission from the  Bipartisan Policy Center, a group with which I’ve become affiliated, offered an alternative proposal. Both provide excellent recommendations that involve tough choices, but a way forward. A group of six senators is willing to at least put the Bowles-Simpson ideas into a bill.
Getting our fiscal house in order won’t be easy. It will require those in Washington to put the national interest ahead of their own. It will mean some short-term economic stress in their states. It’s easy to avoid difficult decisions; constituents need to let Congress know how important it is to confront them.
We need to be sure that my grandson and others have a fighting chance to live in a country whose leaders had the courage to lead.

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