Opinion | Tony Jones: Facing the fiscal music

In a recent conversation about our country’s national debt with a Republican friend of mine, he surprised me by stating that he thought the only way we could ever dig our way out of the fiscal hole we’re in was by raising taxes. Wait, what? A Reagan Republican advocating for raising taxes?

There are differing opinions about how concerned a country like the US should be in regards to the national debt. But I think that most Americans who, unlike the U.S. government, have to live within their means, find a national debt of over $30 trillion dollars unacceptable. And the two parties that run Washington will agree with you, if it’s the other party that’s in power when you ask. The Democrats blame it on the Bush wars and Bush and Trump tax cuts. The Republicans blame it on the Affordable “Obama” Care Act and out-of-control spending on the part of the Democrats. In truth, they may both be right, but it seems the party in power always punts on doing something about it. Meanwhile, our self-imposed spending ceiling continuously looms ahead of us, promising an annual farcical display of economic sanctimoniousness from both parties in the battle to raise the national debt limit.

If, someday, our government should decide it’s finally time to do something about the debt where should we start in addressing it? Republicans would probably tell you that it needs to start with cutting spending, slashing programs that many of us currently rely on or hope to someday be able to tap into like Social Security and Medicare. Cutting the military budget (set for 3/4 of a trillion dollars for 2023), is as much a third rail to Republican policy as raising taxes is, making cuts there a nonstarter. This, despite the U.S. military once again failing an audit, showing that they can’t account for equipment, dollars spent or even real estate holdings.

On the other side of the aisle, the Democratic attitude towards the national debt is something along the lines of “problem, what problem?” With Biden’s election in 2020, Democrats saw the chance to open the nation’s checkbook to address a laundry list of issues from the environment to infrastructure to child care and college debt. All noble causes for sure, but how wise is it to keep digging when you’re already 6 feet under? Fiscal conservatives owe Joe Manchin a debt of gratitude for putting a cap on Democratic spending plans.

Whether the answer to addressing the national debt is cutting spending (raise your hand to volunteer the program you depend on for consideration) or raising taxes (look in the mirror Colorado, when was the last time you voted for a tax increase as TABOR requires for passage?) the congressperson that votes for either of these budget balancing/debt reduction options probably won’t be in office very long. It’ll take a lot of courage for a politician to vote for meaningful debt reduction measures that have a negative financial impact on their constituents. And that’s if they can even get elected to begin with. Who amongst us is gonna vote for the candidate that promises they’ll cut the military budget and entitlement spending and raise taxes?

It’ll take voters who truly believe in the need for national fiscal restraint and accountability and are willing to put their votes where the mouths are to hoist us out of the fiscal hole we’re in. It’ll also take politicians who are in it for the good of the country, regardless of how their votes affect their personal political future. As long as the lure of perpetual service in congress continues to dangle before elected officials, they’ll push the easy button on fiscal accountability by pointing fingers at the other side, all the while working to bring the pork back home to their constituents. So maybe the answer here is to eliminate that draw of perpetual office by imposing term limits on congress. This would require an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, a long shot for sure, but given our current state of politics and Congress’s financial dereliction of duty, if now’s not the time for such measures, when will it be?

We can’t keep kicking this can down the road. Voters need to understand the fiscal burden that we are handing down to future generations and do the responsible thing by insisting that our government pays down the national debt and balances our national budget. If it takes term limits to hold our public servants accountable to these issues, making it so their second or third term is their last and as such they have nothing to lose in doing the right thing, so be it.

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