As the current melodrama finally plays out in Washington, it is important that people understand how we got into this mess in the first place.
Not since 1957, when I was 6 years old and Dwight Eisenhower was president, has the federal government reported a budget surplus.
In more recent times, President Bill Clinton came closest to balancing the budget by reporting only a $17 billion dollar deficit in 2000. President George W. Bush accumulated close to $3 trillion dollars in budget deficits with the seven budgets over which he presided. President Barack Obama has racked up close to $5 trillion during his three-year watch.
Over this 54-year span of spiraling budget deficits, the Republicans have controlled the White House for 32 of those years and the Democrats for 22. The point here is that both Dems and Repubs - left and right, liberals and conservatives - have participated mightily and jointly in creating this debt crisis.
What, might you ask, are the most important contributing factors to this deficit spending? It boils down to three basic things: Wars, entitlement programs and tax policy. Think about it: Vietnam, Persian Gulf, Iraq, Afghanistan and all the smaller skirmishes along the way. Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, etc. - all of the above require significant revenue streams to function properly. So how do our elected representatives in Washington respond? They reduce the tax rate on the wealthy. They send rebate checks in the mail, a la Bush. They allow income taxes as a percentage of gross incomes to fall to the lowest level of any developed nation in the world. Washington has no appetite for increasing taxes. However, increasing your spending while decreasing your revenue streams while at the same time giving away your rainy day money is a sure recipe for financial disaster.
While it may be true, that the 14th Amendment to the Constitution may state that "the validity of the public debt of the United States authorized by law ... shall not be questioned," the practicality of the enormous impact of the interest payments being made on a $14 trillion dollar debt is mind boggling. Like 42 cents on every federal budget dollar.
A balanced approach is the only plan that can work. Not only do you have to cut spending, you also must increase your revenue stream while at the same time re-evaluating the role of government in people's lives. Clearly, an overwhelming majority of our population wants Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Obviously, they want the Department of Defense to defend them from our enemies. But do they want never-ending wars and skirmishes, endless foreign aid to countries who do not support us and in many cases are openly hostile to our existence, a space program, universal health care, etc.?
The inability of our elected representatives in Washington to forge a bipartisan solution to the debt ceiling issue along with spending cuts and increased taxes makes one pause. Are government shutdowns and polarization the answers we're seeking? I think not! Whatever happened to civility of discourse and mutual respect? Whatever happened to the concept that we are all Americans in this life together? Whatever happened to U.S.?