By Chris Nevins
November 07, 2008 6:00 AM
Seacoastonline.com - Portsmouth, New Hampshire
And so it is over. The historic election of 2008 has made its mark and change is in the air. While welcomed by many, this change is also feared by others.
My guess is that the emotion of the day may be overdone on both sides of the political spectrum and that our futures may not be as exciting or problematic as some suspect. Our nation has weathered many storms during our brief history and shared in many victories as well. The earth continues to rotate and we will all continue to rotate with it. The American journey continues on its way and I am pleased to be a participant in that journey.
But of course, this does not mean we have time only to smell the flowers. There is a lot of serious work ahead of us. And just what is that work? Our primary focus should be to get our fiscal house in order. In a recent letter to the editor, my Democratic counterpart talked about our national debt as if it were just eight years in the making. It was not. This nation has been in and out of debt for much of its existence. During most of that time wars were the culprit causing that debt but now it is a much different issue.
The major cause of our total debt and yearly deficits are our entitlement programs; Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. These entitlements total more than 53 percent of our federal budget. This mandatory part of our budget cannot be reduced or increased by Congress without a major change to our laws. Other mandatory items include federal and military retirements, veteran benefits and certain welfare related programs. After interest on our debt is paid (about 9 percent of the budget) we have everything else which is 38 percent of the budget. This 38 percent is what can be adjusted by 13 appropriation bills every budget year. It includes military spending of just over 4 percent.
He stated that our national debt is more than $10.5 trillion and that is correct. However, $10.5 trillion represents $6 trillion we owe the public (including foreign countries) for buying our treasury bonds and nearly $5 trillion in Intra Governmental holdings, (money that the federal government has taken from the so called Social Security "trust" fund to spend on other things besides Social Security). IOUs are then left behind for future generations to pay. What a great deal! But let's be brutally honest. This figure only represents what we owe bondholders.
If we consider what we have promised present and future mandatory entitlement beneficiaries our real debt is more than $50 trillion. Were these promises made in just the last eight years? Which promises shall we break to get out of this debt?
Why should a state representative be talking about federal problems? Because I have observed that contrary to the statement that past Republican governors have created a problem that needs to be solved, it is in this administration where the problems are just beginning. Concord is starting to catch the "federal disease" and spending beyond its means. While warnings of growing debt were ignored by the majority, it wasn't until the end of the session that an attempt to rectify it came into play. Now that the reality of a recession is upon us the specter of not only major cuts but more borrowing seems to loom ahead of us. Will this mean more shifting of our spending today to tomorrow's generation? Would that be the moral thing for us to do?
"We must set priorities" is only an empty cliché unless we specifically identify what we need to pay for in our New Hampshire budget, not just what we would like to. Identifying a priority would mean not ordering "surf and turf" at our local restaurant but rather "surf or turf." More realistically we are probably looking at ordering meatloaf. So yes, indeed the election is over and change is in the air. But what will that change look like in Concord the next two years? Will we make the hard decisions to cut spending? Will we raise more fees and taxes on you or can you smell a broad-based tax in your future? Are you ready pay more in taxes but have less control on how it is spent?
Stay tuned as the next legislative session starts in January. We shall soon know.
Chris Nevins is chairman of the Hampton Republican Party chairman and a state representative from Hampton recently re-elected.