So if we didn’t have a national debt, that would be $7 trillion in our back pockets. If I had $7 trillion I’d buy a gas grill AND play in the $20-$40 poker game up in La Center.
But I digress.
Bringing down the debt really is serious business. And, honestly, no one is talking about it? Why? Truth is, it’s not sexy enough. Powering the entire country with solar? That’s sexy. Living in a robust economy? That’s sexy. Paying down the national debt? Kinda like putting Jimmy Durante on the cover of GQ.
Well, I shouldn’t say no one is talking about it. Grand Poobah Donald Trump made it part of his 2016 election campaign. The master of moolah said he would eliminate the entire enchilada of debt in eight years.
OK, this can’t be counted as one of his 10,000 lies … yet. Because he still has five years to go. If we’re lucky he won’t get past four years, so I guess we may never know. But, Mr. President, I don’t have to tell you, the numbers aren’t trending for your bold prediction to come true. When you made the claim, the debt was at $19 trillion. Now it’s $22 trillion. No chance, my friend.
Oh yeah, Trump said he would be able to get rid of the debt by renegotiating our deals with other countries and by creating a robust economy. And I’d argue he has done that. But the problem is the debt is growing.
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So do we have any hope?
I asked our congressional delegation for their views.
“I think the debt continues to be one of the most important issues,” U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler told me recently. “Part of the challenge is, it’s not just the things that we owe today, it’s the debt service. It’s basically the interest we owe on the debt and anybody who’s ever taken out a college loan or home loan understands this perfectly.”
Herrera Beutler said fiscal responsibility has been a central value of the Republican Party. But in order to bring down the debt, something has to be done — a restructuring — to programs like Social Security. Not for anyone nearing retirement, but for folks her age, she said. She’s 40.
Still, who is going to lead the charge? Well, the man with the bully pulpit doesn’t seem inclined to fight this battle.
“This president is just not going to go there,” Herrera Beutler said.
Anyone else out there?
“Well, the Democrats aren’t going to do it in the House,” Herrera Beutler said. “And at the time (when) the president was Barack Obama, he wasn’t going to do it. And now it’s a Republican president and he’s not going to do it, so those of us in Congress who continue to worry about our children and grandchildren, we’re in a frustrating position for the time being.”
Sen. Patty Murray also weighed in for me.
“I firmly believe our nation must responsibly manage our deficits and debt and over the years I’ve been proud to work across the aisle on efforts to balance our budget.
“However, Republican-led efforts to wage unfunded wars overseas and pass unsustainable tax cuts … have effectively erased our bipartisan consensus and turned previous budget surpluses into unsustainable deficits in health care, education, infrastructure, the environment, and so much more.
“Reducing the debt in a balanced and responsible manner requires both parties setting politics aside to come to the table and put families first.”
Finally, Sen. Maria Cantwell told me late this week the country needs to get serious about financing expenditures with funds that are currently available rather than borrowed. This is called PAYGO.
“We need to pay down the debt, re-establish PAYGO and make sure capital for new investments remains affordable,” Cantwell said. “Trade wars and debt financing are not the way to strengthen our economy.”
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Is there any way out of this rabbit hole? First, we have to quit playing politics. Then, we have to make the national debt front and center.
Then we have to make difficult choices. I’m guessing huge cuts in defense spending have to happen. If we reduced defense spending by 50 percent (you heard that right) we’d still have the most powerful armed forces in the world. I think Democrats might agree. Next, we have to get a handle on things like Social Security. If you’re still 20 to 30 years out on collecting, it simply isn’t going to be the same deal we have today. And some deal is better than no deal. I think Republicans might agree.
Finally, someone has to champion this issue. No one today seems willing to step up. But there’s always a chance someone might be there tomorrow. Hopefully I won’t have to create a Don’t Do Stupid Stuff Party to get the ball rolling.