Saturday, January 29, 2011

Monster debt threatens our future

5:15 PM, Jan. 28, 2011
Indianapolis Star 

The Congressional Budget Office issued yet another warning this week about the fiscal calamity awaiting the nation if the federal deficit is not soon brought under control. It's questionable, however, whether anyone on Capitol Hill or in the White House is prepared to seriously heed those warnings, delivered with ever-higher intensity over the past year.

In its latest projection, the CBO forecast that an additional $7 trillion will be added to the national debt in the next decade. If that occurs, annual interest payments on the debt, according to the CBO, would hit nearly $780 billion by 2021, which is more than the nation now spends each year on military defense.

Neither the president nor congressional Republicans have offered remedies that fully confront the looming crisis. President Barack Obama this week proposed a five-year freeze on optional domestic spending. Republicans have called for deep cuts in nondefense spending but haven't been willing to take on the Pentagon, Social Security or Medicare, all of which must be trimmed if the debt is to be tamed.

The CBO pointed out that the extension of the so-called Bush tax cuts and the temporary cut in the Social Security payroll tax, which Congress approved and the president signed last month, will add about $400 billion to the deficit this year alone. But the nation's long-term fiscal problems have more to do with spending levels than tax rates.

By 2021, federal revenues are projected to rest above the historical average of 18 percent of gross domestic product. Current projections, however, also show federal spending to be at more than 26 percent of GDP in 10 years.

It's more critical than ever that someone in Washington step forward to speak honestly about the painful choices facing the nation. Our government cannot continue to spend far more than it takes in without serious consequences. Our promises to future retirees cannot be met without substantive changes in Social Security and Medicare. Our future as a nation will be badly compromised, our children's future painfully altered, unless serious corrections are made in short order.

The alarms are sounding louder than ever. When will those elected to lead stop to listen?

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