The next president’s debts
By Editorial Board
JULY 31, 2015, 2:36 PM
On the mid-July day Jeb Bush candidly told Sioux City Republicans he wants to curb federal favors to Iowa’s ethanol industry, he got a lucky pick-me-up from First Budget: How, asked a member of this ascendant advocacy group, would he balance federal revenue and spending? Ethanol is but one drop in that bucket.
The Sioux City Journal reports that Bush, who favors raising the age at which Americans can draw Social Security, said he also backs a federal hiring freeze and not replacing all retirees.
“You are not going to get it to balance immediately, but with high (economic) growth and a focused approach to limiting spending, including entitlements over the long haul, you can get it in balance,” Bush said. “Without (the economy) growing, it won’t happen. And if we don’t fix the entitlement system, it won’t happen.”
With that frankness, a candidate for president paid his respects to First Budget’s pressure over the existential threat that federal debts and entitlements pose to America as we know it.
Haven’t heard of First Budget? You would if you attended candidates’ events in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina or other early caucus and primary states. The nonpartisan group’s respected ancestors include the Concord Coalition, Fix the Debt and the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, aka CRFB. Its members are pressing, politely but relentlessly, for answers about America’s perilous finances from the men and women who would be our 45th president.
The time for this pressure, which all of us should apply to the candidates, is right. President Next will have a progressively dicier debacle on his or her oft-shaken, well-manicured hands:
Looming over these dangers is a current federal debt — that is, a federal taxpayers’ debt — of $18.3 trillion. But who among us can comprehend $18.3 trillion? Time magazine recently translated our national debt into decipherable subsets: Turns out our debt could buy everyone on Earth an Apple Watch, an iPad, an iPhone 6 and a 13-inch MacBook Air. It could buy 1,000 nuclear submarines plus 3,000 B-2 Spirit bombers. Or a kidney transplant for 54.4 million people — nearly the combined population of California and Florida. Or four years of public college for every American under age 75. Our debt could reimburse every fast-food purchase made in the past 15 years worldwide. Or pay for eight Iraq wars. Or cover cleanup and repair costs for 100 Katrina-scale disasters. It could buy 1 billion tons of Bavarian bratwurst.
Remember, this debt is a number we’re inflating by additional hundreds of billions of dollars a year. To watch it grow (blindingly) in real time, click to usdebtclock.org. Then ponder the Congressional Budget Office projection that, by 2039, our debt burden could reach 180 percent of GDP, higher than Greece’s currently calamitous 175 percent.
We’re putting all these projections in one editorial to explain why the next president has to do what others haven’t: Stop the runaway train headed at us all. As for candidates always prattling that they want to “invest” more in schools, or defense, or a hundred other needs: At their events or in your talks with their surrogates, ask the questions First Budget volunteers are forcing politicians to confront.
As two of the group’s officers wrote in a July 19 op-ed for The Cedar Rapids Gazette, “If they promise tax cuts or more spending, how will they pay for them without increasing the debt? How do they plan to put important programs like Social Security and Medicare on a more sustainable track?” Then let their answers guide your vote.
Read the editorial on the Chicago Tribune’s website: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/editorials/ct-national-debt-medicare-bush-obama-edit-0803-20150731-story.html