Saturday, March 28, 2020
March 28, 2020

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Jayne: Bill for U.S. debt will come due

By , Columbian Opinion Editor
Published:

Let’s look at it this way: If you borrowed $70,000 for each person in your family, without any concern about how to pay it off, could you put on the airs of prosperity?

Maybe remodel the kitchen and put a new deck on the house? A new car or two? A fancy new wardrobe for everybody and a trip to the Cayman Islands? How about all of those, along with a country club membership and more than a few high-priced dinners?

If a family of four borrowed $280,000 and pretended the money wouldn’t have to be paid back, they wouldn’t just keep up with the Joneses, they would make the Joneses green with envy — at least until the bills come due.

That is exactly what the federal government is doing. The national debt surpassed $23 trillion in November, which works out to about $70,000 for every person in the United States. The deficit for fiscal 2019 was $984 billion; for fiscal 2020, it is expected to be $1.1 trillion.

I know, I know — all of this is the political equivalent of crying “wolf!” Trying to get people to care about the national debt is kind of like trying to explain how Alexa turns up the thermostat when you ask it to. We don’t care how it works as long as the house is warm.

And when it comes to the economy, things are hot. Trump supporters point to strong job growth and a bullish stock market and solid consumer confidence as proof that the president has sprinkled some magic elixir on the economy. Those are important; goodness knows, it is better to have people working than not working. (It also should be mentioned that the final 35 months of the Obama presidency saw more job growth than the first 35 months under Trump.)

Meanwhile, those same supporters willfully look the other way when confronted with the fact that this economy is a debt-fueled house of cards.

Trump did not generate all the nation’s debt; he inherited about $20 trillion of it. But increasing the debt when the economy is strong and the government should be able to pay its bills is different from deficit spending when the economy is struggling. When there is a recession, government borrowing can help prevent a depression.

Look at it this way: If you lose your job, you might need to take out a stopgap loan in order to make the house payments. When you return to work, you pay that back; you don’t borrow more. And yet the federal government continues to mortgage the nation’s future.

In 1816, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “We must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt.” In 2010, Adm. Michael Mullen, then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said, “The most significant threat to our national security is our debt.” In 2016, Trump said: “We’ve got to get rid of the $19 trillion in debt. … I think I could do it fairly quickly.” It’s not shocking that Trump would say one thing and do the opposite.

Closer to home, Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, in 2011 supported a balanced budget amendment: “If Congress doesn’t stop the overspending, America will cease to be the ‘land of opportunity’ we all know. … It’s time to force a fiscally responsible budgeting process. I will continue to push this measure with determined focus, in hopes that we can maintain the ‘land of opportunity’ for our children.”

Now Herrera Beutler routinely votes for tax cuts and spending increases — the metaphorical equivalent of putting that Caymans vacation on the credit card when there is no money in the bank. The result is that the U.S. government annually spends about $400 billion of your money on just the interest from the debt.

All of which will play a role in this year’s presidential election, where the illusion of a robust economy could be the deciding factor. For all of his lies and immorality and buffoonery that has world leaders laughing at the United States, for all of his invitations for foreign powers to interfere with our elections, Trump could be reelected if the economy is strong come November.

That might prove to be the case. Because when you add to a bill that is now $70,000 per person, it is easy to appear prosperous.

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