A Culture of Spending and Debate

March 6, 2012

For the most part, Washington has always been a city divided. Partisan politics always plays a part in the process of making some of the most impactful decisions and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The country is built on diverse ideas. We need people with different perspectives to develop solutions to our biggest problems, but it’s undoubtedly gone too far. These days, we’re faced with an environment of hyper-partisanship. More often than not, it seems lawmakers in Washington say things just because it’s the opposite of what other side is saying. It’s no surprise that Congress’s approval rating has reached a record low.

We have a problem. That’s the basis around which we can all come to the table. And in the end, we all want the same thing – a healthy, balanced economy where jobs are available for those looking. How we dig our way out of the problem and get to where we all want to be is where the discussion breaks down.

That is exactly why this cause is so important. It’s an issue that affects everyone – children, students, recent graduates, stay at home parents, retirees. The consequences of past financial indiscretions and the result of the current economic downturn have become so personal. In the past, when the Treasury announced the monthly deficit, it meant little to the average American, but we’ve reached a tipping point and it means something very real now. Millions of Americans sit out of work; families are seeing the price of everyday goods rise; tuition increases and student loan debt are a persistent problem.

This crisis has been a long time in the making. It’s not hard to look back and see that the rate at which Washington was spending was unsustainable. It comes down to the most basic principle of not spending more than you take in. But, since Washington seems unable to grasp that, we’re left with a national debt approaching $15 trillion. We can no longer keep the federal debt at the back of our collective conscious. It has surpassed the size of our entire economy and reached a level at which it has begun to affect economic growth.

Our financial system and the problems it faces are complex. Therefore, the specifics of the eventual solution will also be complex. However, the principle on which the solution should be based is very simple. We must do the opposite of what drove us into this position in the first place. We’ve tried to spend our way out of the recession. The nearly $1 trillion dollar stimulus package is widely regarded as a disappointment. While, admittedly, a massive infusion of cash into the economy will yield some stimulative results, these were only temporary, and this ignored the larger question of whether we could afford it. In the end it simply piled on more long-term obligations as the unemployment rate continued to rise.

But, it’s unproductive to complain about people and decisions that lead us here. From my perspective, there are two distinct paths that the country can go down. On one, we can continue tokick the can down the road, refusing to make the necessary cuts. Uncertainty will continue to cripple a recovery. Businesses are crowded out, unwilling and unable to make long-term investments in infrastructure and their work force. On the other, lawmakers finally step up to the plate and do what so many others before them failed to do. Congress makes the long-awaited spending reforms. We can preserve programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid for the millions of Americans that rely on those benefits and for those that will need them in the future. As we control our annual deficits and the debt-to-GDP returns to a healthy level, some level of certainty will be restored. Business owners will be able to plan for the future, start hiring again and ultimately the American worker will be able to spearhead a recovery.

In a perfect world, we would have unlimited resources. But the government must start operating within the reality of what it takes in. Tax reform is by no means off the table. Most recognize that the tax code is unnecessarily complex and in dire need of reform, but we don’t have a tax problem, we have a spending problem. Focus on the root cause of our economic problems, then we can turn our attention elsewhere.

Ultimately government spending is an important part of the nation’s economy. Whether it’s maintaining our roads or educating our children, in many ways, the government is an invaluable piece of our lives. The problem arises when it tries to do too much. For years, it has tried to do too much. The country can no longer afford it. Washington’s ineptitude is no longer acceptable. Our economy needs solutions as unprecedented as its problems.

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