“Don’t spend money you don’t have” and “distinguish between essentials and frills” are lessons just about everybody learns at some point in their lives, whether from a basic economics course or from one’s parents explaining that a credit card is not magic.
Why, then, can’t Congress and the White House figure it out?
At the Daily Beast, Peter Beinart writes about how the dilemma facing us in Iraq: if the US military sticks to its current withdrawal schedule, Iraq’s fledgling democracy will likely collapse before long, but we can’t afford to stay any longer:
The coming months could be particularly treacherous. Last time Iraq held a national election, it took parliament five months to approve a new government. As Thomas Ricks of the Center for a New American Security has pointed out, Obama drew up his withdrawal plan on the assumption that Iraq would hold elections in late 2009, and thus, that it would have a government in place by the time U.S. troops began leaving in droves. But because that election is only being held now, Iraq may be virtually government-less when U.S. troops head for the exits this summer. In such an environment, the potential for chaos is real. And the greater the prospect of chaos, the greater the potential for a coup, something Britain’s ambassador in Iraq recently warned about. Few Iraqi strongmen would attempt one with close to 100,000 U.S. troops peering over their shoulder. But the faster those numbers dwindle, the greater the danger becomes.
Defense spending, which has grown 9 percent per year over the last decade, now comprises well over 50 percent of U.S. discretionary spending. Unless some president reins that in, there’s no real chance of getting U.S. debt under control, let alone making the domestic investments necessary to compete with China. But curtailing defense spending in wartime is virtually impossible. (It’s no surprise that historically, it’s during wars that the U.S. has gone deepest into debt.) In January, Obama announced a three-year freeze on discretionary spending, but exempted defense altogether.
Hmm, if only there were other vast sums of money the federal government was spending that could be reduced…
Curiously, it doesn’t seem to occur to Beinart to cut from anywhere other than defense, which, while costly, is far from unusually high from a historical standpoint, especially considering that we’re at war – one of the things the federal government actually is supposed to spend money on. But of course, there are alternatives. For one thing, Uncle Sam could reconsider the wisdom of massive, trillion-dollar boondoggles in the name of “stimulus,” or of bailing out everyone under the sun. We could recognize that we just can’t afford a government takeover of healthcare right now. Heck, if we really wanted to get serious about fiscal discipline and doing something about debt, we could take a look at Social Security, Medicare, entitlement spending, earmarks…I could go on and on, but you get the point.
This is one of the inherent problems of left-wing governance: not only is there a fundamentally distorted conception of what government is and is not for, not only do liberals have a complete disregard for barriers between public and private or federal and local, but they are dangerously impatient to see their dreams made into reality, and cannot bring themselves to leave behind that shiny new toy in the store window, even if the credit cards are maxed out and the landlord’s about to kick ‘em out of the apartment. They want the frills so much that they’ll sacrifice the essentials to get them.
That’s why Barack Obama’s rhetoric has been jam-packed with references to the time for talk being over. Indeed, take a look at the Congressional Budget Office’s latest debt predictions, then come back and tell me whether or not the people in charge take fiscal discipline seriously.
Unfortunately, both parties have been growing government and spending like there’s no tomorrow for so long, and America has gotten so used to the status quo, that no solution will be easy to implement. As John Hawkins recently wrote, a weaker military, serious tax increases and economic stagnation, and an overall decline in American power, might all be unavoidable, even if all of Capitol Hill were to have a miraculous conversion to conservatism tomorrow. The one thing we do know is that we can’t go on like this. Everybody knows it, but whether or not leaders will emerge who are willing to play grown-up and say “NO” to DC’s unruly kids is another matter entirely.