Leaders in Congress found a red line they would not cross in the budget deal just passed: a new Obama administration red line keeping the country mired in deficit spending.
Faced with the false choice of default on the nation's debt or unchecked spending (fueled by a blank check from taxpayers), congressional leaders chose to raise the debt ceiling and postpone tough decisions.
The deal irresponsibly creates an extend-and-pretend policy that ignores market reality, setting up the next conflicted debate in January when the deal ends. But American taxpayers cannot continue to cover profligate spending indefinitely.
This budget crisis is not a Democratic problem or a Republican problem, it is a math problem. The numbers do not add up.
Over the last 12 years, the federal budget has doubled in size, from $1.9 trillion in 2001 to $3.8 trillion this year.
Federal spending grew 71 percent faster than inflation over the last 20 years, according to the Heritage Foundation.
Even today, interest on the debt is the fifth-largest federal spending category, partially camouflaged by artificially low interest rates courtesy of the Federal Reserve Board.
The national debt rose by 55 percent during the Obama Administration so far, now fueled by a higher credit card limit from the vote.
Erskine Bowles, a co-chairman of the president's bipartisan Simpson-Bowles deficit-reduction commission, describes the growing interest on debt as one of the nation’s biggest challenges.
"We'll be spending over $1 trillion a year on interest by 2020. That's $1 trillion we can't spend to educate our kids or to replace our badly worn-out infrastructure," said Bowles.
This simplified analysis of Uncle Sam’s spending and take-home pay paints a picture of the out-of-control nature of America’s current budget.
Some argue that comparing the finances of ordinary Americans with the resources of Uncle Sam ignores the broader number of tools held by the government.
But the 5-year flatlining economy marked by the endangered species of new full-time jobs indicates that even Uncle Sam will ultimately be accountable to market forces.
Consider a breakdown of Uncle Sam’s Budget in 2012:
– Dollars in (U.S tax revenue): $ $2.5 trillion
– Dollars out (Federal spending): $ 3.6 trillion
– Budget shortfall: $ 1.1 trillion
– National debt: $16.7 trillion
– 2012 budget cuts: Zero
– Wild card (Unfunded liabilities/contracts): $120 trillion
By adjusting the zeros, this translates into a family budget as follows:
– Dollars in (Your annual income): $25,000
– Dollars out (Your household spending): $ 36,000
– Budget shortfall: $11,000
– Your credit card debt: $167,000
– Budget cuts: Zero
– Wild Card (unfunded financial obligations): $ 1,200,000
No family and no nation can continue spending at such a pace. Bills come due. Creditors demand payment. Lenders ultimately refuse the borrowers.
Alan Greenspan, the former Federal Reserve chairman, has weighed in his concerns in his new book, "The Map and the Territory: Risk, Human Nature, and the Future of Forecasting."
“The bias toward unconstrained deficit spending is our top domestic economic problem," he writes.
The founding fathers would have agreed. Author of the Declaration of Independence and third U.S. president Thomas Jefferson may have put it best: “To preserve our independence, we must not let our leaders load us with perpetual debt ... If we can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of caring for them, we will be wise.”Chuck Bentley is CEO of Crown Ministries in Knoxville, Tenn.