Every now and then in politics, there comes a psychologically important moment. Some are satisfying, like our bicentennial in 1976. Others are less so, like the time a few years ago when our national debt surpassed the one trillion dollar mark. If that one made us nervous, the moment that is coming upon us this month should make us shrink in terror. For if we let it happen, in September the US Congress will authorize pushing the national debt beyond the five trillion dollar mark.
At any given time, there is always some legal limit to the national debt. Since the debt has been growing out of control for decades, it periodically grows up to the legal limit. Whenever that happens, Congress has the choice of controlling their spending to prevent further growth of the debt, or increasing the legal limit, or “debt ceiling.” So far, Congress has always chosen to increase the ceiling.
In September, we are again faced with the choice: do we cut federal spending at least enough to stop adding to the debt; or do we allow the government to continue its uncontrolled spending and growth? This time, the limit is five trillion dollars. The current debt is 4.9 trillion dollars. I say that five trillion dollars is enough: let’s draw the line right here. Let’s put our Senators and Representative on notice that we expect them to vote against any increase in the federal debt ceiling.
Naturally, at any suggestion that we stop raising the debt ceiling, defenders of big government pour out of every crack in the woodwork. We are “irresponsible” even to think about such an action. Why, it would shut down the government to cut it off at five trillion dollars of debt! What a disaster!
The plain fact is that “only” about ten percent of the government is funded by debt. So only ten percent of the government would be “shut down” by cutting off that debt. Would you call that a disaster? It might be a crisis; but after all, Congress seems to prefer letting problems grow to crisis proportions before acting on them. Maybe this crisis is just what they need to get moving on the debt problem.
Conservatives are always accused of being simplistic. Okay, here is a simplistic suggestion for dealing with this situation. First, remove Social Security from the revenue and spending sides of the budget. That is a problem that should be dealt with separately, after careful planning. It need not complicate the debt question that we face right now. Second, cut the remainder of the spending side of the budget, across the board, by ten or whatever percent is needed to avoid violating the debt ceiling. Finally, reshuffle spending priorities for the ninety percent or so that is left.
It is time to stop dancing around the debt problem. If we let Congress go beyond five trillion, then ten trillion will be just around the corner. Sooner or later, we will reach the point where the interest on the debt will consume all of our tax dollars. Where will Congress’ favorite boondoggles be then? Unfortunately, at that point, we won’t be able to spend anything: Constitutionally authorized or not.
There isn’t much time to act on this. Congress could vote to increase the debt ceiling any day now. It is important that we all contact our Senators and Representative today, urging them to vote against any increase in the debt ceiling. This problem isn’t going to be easier to solve at the ten trillion or fifty trillion dollar level. Let’s put a stop to the growth of federal debt in September, 1995.