While all participants in the political circus have their eyes focused on the government shut down and whether or not to give Trump his wall or steel slats, tossing in a loose $5-6 billion, the national debt is inexorably crossing yet another threshold @ $22 trillion. And the question is anew: “What did we buy ourselves with all that money?"
The painful answer to that question is: “Not much, and certainly nothing of lasting value.”
Our infrastructure is in desperate need of repair and upgrade, our pension and entitlement programs are heading into an unfunded future, our healthcare and our education systems have fallen below world class standards and have become unaffordably expensive, except for the privileged few and−in the process−inequality has risen to dangerous levels.
It is a disgrace that, at a time of near record low unemployment and a humming, if not booming, economy, our government is still running a trillion-dollar deficit. Under current conditions, you would expect to see the government coffers filling up with surplus revenues like we did at one time under the second Clinton administration from 1998 to 2001. It is mind boggling that, while Republicans and Democrats can’t agree on anything when it comes to national policy and strategy, they all know how to spend money. Money, we don’t have and thus have to borrow from our competitors and our children.
Read my lips: There is no higher national interest urgency than putting our fiscal house in order. That means properly and securely funding the things we absolutely have to do to maintain our national security (including border security) and propel our nation into the modern era. If that means higher taxes on those who can best afford it, so be it. We have to get rid of the false dogma that taxes can only go down.
If we had a functional government between the White House and Capitol Hill, we would be budgeting the expenses we need to make in order to deal with the nation’s challenges over a reasonable period of say 10-15 years, while eliminating annual budget deficits and slowly reducing the national debt. And then reform the tax code to secure the funding of these national priorities. This will likely require introduction of new taxes on any of the following: Consumption (like a Value Add Tax), income from sources other than labor, assets, inheritance or, most likely, a combination of all of these. It is unlikely that tinkering with tax rates for Federal income tax and corporate income taxes can generate enough revenue to fund the unmet needs of the nation. The harsh reality of the mess we have made of our national checkbook and the fact that we have nothing to show for our excessive spending, signals clearly that a broadening of the tax base is an inescapable necessity.
Of course, we will have to be smart enough and disciplined enough to not waste additional revenues on doing more of the same. We need a small but smart government that is laser focused on paying only for the things, programs, and policies that propel the nation forward enabling global leadership, while maintaining America’s national security.
America has, for too long now, tried and failed to do it the other way: Starve the government of tax revenues and it will have no choice to live within its means. The result is a $22 trillion debt and a long litany of unaddressed societal problems. Trump is right, America is facing a national emergency. It just is not one that is cropping up at our Southern border, it is threatening the entire American landscape and the very fabric of our society. It is a pipedream to believe that we can buy prosperity, global competitiveness and social justice and stability on the cheap. Thank goodness, America can afford to pay the price.
But now for the hard part: One has to be blind not to see that what is needed is politically unattainable in America’s current constellation and with the existing political leadership personnel in place. The 2020 elections will be all about granting or denying Trump a second term. There is no conceivable way for any serious contender to openly advocate for the agenda I here suggest and get through the primaries, much less be elected the 46th President. And yet, will we just throw the towel in and concede that we cannot solve our problems in an adult way? If America does not find a way to put its fiscal house in order and begin to make up for lost time in propelling the nation ahead in the race for global competitiveness and leadership, it will be doomed to go the way of the Roman or British empire. That certainly does not offer a winning platform for a future President.
It looks like America is waiting for the next George Washington, Abraham Lincoln or Franklin D. Roosevelt to emerge and snatch victory from defeat. A person with the personal authority, the vision and integrity, necessary to convince the public that it will have to swallow the unpalatable medicine of broader taxes to pay for past sins and future prosperity and stability.
Read my lips: Broader taxes are coming and it is about time.