Deficit debate masks ideology

Monday, March 30, 2009

There has been some quibbling over the future of the national debt. The Obama administration contends that proposed spending for the next 10 years will add $7 trillion (with a T) to our fiscal burden. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the Obama budget would tack on $9.3 trillion.

At his news conference last week, President Obama said two things that deserve closer scrutiny:

* He said he inherited $1.3 trillion in deficits created by Republicans. This is just one example of how the president likes to point to the failures of those who ran the government before he was sworn in Jan. 20. In this case, the pointed reference appeared to be a justification for compounding the debt burden well into the future. He is, in effect, saying the federal government must spend whatever it takes to impose education reforms, economic stimulus and national health care.

* He said his lower estimate of future deficits was based on a growth factor that is higher than the one used by the CBO. But, he added, the reality is that neither the administration nor the CBO has a clue about what that growth factor will be five years from now, much less 10 years.

This is how the nation's budget is compiled: Pick a figure, come up with a spending plan and assume the deficits will be enormous.

That's the tragedy of the federal government today. Most of us hear "trillion" without having any grasp of how much that is. And when a trillion increases by a factor of 10, the total is staggering.

So, $7 trillion or $9.3 trillion: What is it about the folks in Washington who think either of those stupendous amounts is good for the future of our nation?

The debate isn't about which figure is correct. In fact, both figures are potshots at prognostication. The real debate is about the scope of federal spending and the monumental changes in federal governance that are being proposed by the Obama administration and supported by a compliant Democratic majority in Congress.

At what point does the weight of deficits sink the ship of state?

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