Americans Should Treat the Federal Government Like Family
Like a parent taking away a teenager's credit card, Americans must demand that federal spending stop or face financial ruin. No matter what the justification to continue them, spending programs must be cut.
One day, your teenage daughter, without your prior permission, comes home laden down with boxes containing the latest fashions purchased at the mall. You discover to your shock that a credit card company has granted her a card with no limit, and she has gone to town big time. You, reminding yourself that you are the parent, immediately launch into a lecture about financial responsibility. You hold out your hand, demanding the card, and shake it insistently. After a sigh, your daughter slaps the card in your hand. You then retire to the kitchen, where the card is given the financial guillotine.
But here's a question: what if your spendthrift daughter had purchased healthy food or basic clothing on credit? "It doesn't matter," you say. "Give me the card."
Down to her last argument, your strong-willed offspring isn't quite finished. Now desperate, she begins to claim that she is "stimulating the economy" and "creating jobs" by spending money she does not have. What if she tells you there are many "benefits" to having the card and that there are many "free things" she can garner as a result of using it? She can even use it for college tuition! And if health care is now "free," can't she loosen the purse strings in other areas?
Not convinced? Well, it so happens that she can even use her credit card to influence her friends, garner their support, and schmooze her way to that new summer job she wanted. "Look what free money can do," she claims. You smile. Like Queen Victoria, you are not amused. You understand that her logic is not only deeply flawed, but it is dangerous, and it could lead to serious financial consequences -- even financial ruin. Standing firm, you remain undeterred. The card gets no reprieve.
If only the federal government thought like responsible families. But it doesn't. Why? Because it is several steps removed from accountability and blithely takes votes by promising free stuff. Lower student loan interest rates, free cell phones, doctor visits labeled "no charge." Benefits galore. Furthermore, teenage logic is flowing out of Washington, D.C. about why this program and that program cannot possibly be cut. The truth is that they will be cut, either in an orderly fashion now or by necessity down the road -- under more dire economic conditions with greater damage done and fewer choices possible, like in Greece.
Bluntly put, the federal government has no money. It must borrow about 1/3 of everything it spends. Any additional expenditures are added to the tab that succeeding generations must pay. All other entities in this position -- be they children, businesses, non-profits, or state governments -- would have long since been cut off, faced drastic reductions, or both. But not Uncle Sam.
Our big problem is that we expect grown-ups in power to act their age. But the thinking of our politicians is actually worse than a teenager's. In fact, it is infantile. Lately, spending rhetoric has been couched not only in compassionate terms, pleading that any cut in any benefit is cruel and unusual punishment. This is irresponsible enough. Your family and mine have already cut, adjusting to economic reality. But during the recession, many political arguments have been advanced using ludicrous economic statements. On July 2, 2010, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi claimed at a press conference that extending unemployment benefits "creates jobs faster than almost any other initiative you can name." On June 14, 2012, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand took to the Senate floor to praise the food stamp program because it "creates $1.81 of revenue for every $1 spent." These are teenage arguments at best, uttered by people who are unaware that the jig is up on spending. Taken to their logical conclusion, why not simply spend and spend until we somehow grow the economy out of recession? But if the debt problem got us into recession, how can more debt be the key to recovery?
The truth is that our politicians' addiction to debt, whether it stems from buying votes through benefits or from discredited Keynesian thinking, must be stopped in its tracks. As voters, we must ask for the credit card back and hold out our hands until it gets returned. We have no alternative other than financial ruin.
Today's political tragedy is that too few politicians will sacrifice their careers as goodie-dispensers for the greater good of America's future. It's time to do to Washington, D.C. what any responsible parent would do to an out-of control teenager, and fast. The credit card must be cut up and a plan to pay it off put into motion. A good starting point is some version of the Ryan budget. Anything else is the definition of insanity.
Republicans and Democrats have both been guilty. It's time for "Groundhog Day" to give way to February 3rd in Washington, D.C.
Jay Haug is a freelance writer living in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. He is the author of Beyond the Flaming Sword, available from Amazon.com.