Let us review some facts. Nearly half the population of this nation is receiving government benefits—Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment insurance, food stamps. About 45 percent of adults pay no federal income taxes at all. The U.S. government is taking in $2.2 trillion in tax revenues this year, and spending $3.5 trillion. Without some dramatic policy changes, we’ll be borrowing more than $1 trillion from China and other nations every year for the next 10 years. Add up all the numbers, and what do you get? Nothing. Paralysis. Incoherence. In November, Democrats will lose a lot of seats in Congress, just two years after panicked voters fired the Republicans, but a sober reckoning with reality is not imminent. Surrender benefits? Reduce our international ambitions? Pay higher taxes? It’s not the American way.
The big debate in Washington at the moment is whether to extend the 2001 tax cuts for 98 percent of the population, or for everyone—including the wealthiest 2 percent. As Ezra Klein points out in The Washington Post, option one would add about $3 trillion to the deficit over the next decade, while option two would add $4 trillion. How’s that for fiscal restraint? To reduce spending, we could make a serious effort to cut health-care costs, but that would involve restricting doctors’ visits and costly tests and treatments. That’s rationing! Unacceptable. We could cut defense spending—but certainly not when we have ongoing wars, or potential ones on the horizon. The best solution, of course, is to cut somebody else’s benefits, but not mine or yours. Lord, give us austerity … just not yet.
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