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Up, Up, and Away

August 26th, 2003

Thought $450 billion was a high deficit number? Try $500 billion for next year–and that’s just the initial estimate, bound to go even higher once tax cuts and defense spending are factored in. Deficits are bound to stay above $300 billion for the next decade, according to the same report.

If, that is, we keep the GOP in charge of the economy.

The huge tax cut was swept in primarily under the idea that since we had such a huge surplus, and a surplus means we’re charging taxpayers too much. Sorry, I want to be civil, but that’s just plain stupid. If you personally have, say, $50,000 in debts, and suddenly, you find yourself making enough money to start paying off those debts, is your conclusion going to be that you are working too hard and need to cut back? Or are you going to start paying off that crippling debt? Any fiscally responsible person will start paying the debt.

Another criminally moronic reason: “It’s your money.” Well, of course it’s your money. It’s also your national debt.

Some people say that having the debt there is a positive thing, usually using convoluted and wishful thinking, but the fact of the matter is that we will spend something around $375 billion this year alone to pay interest on the debt, and probably close to $4 trillion over the next ten years.

Think about it. Four trillion dollars. And that will not be paid to reduce the debt, but only to maintain it. And that’s assuming that interest rates stay low. Can you imagine what could be done with that money? These interest payments are the third biggest expenditure, after entitlements and defense–and paying interest on the debt is threatening to overtake defense spending.

Remember back in the 80’s, when people warned that our children and grandchildren would pay for the deficits? Well, that’s what we’re doing, and Bush Jr. is pushing up the tab, after Clinton and the Democrats came so close to actually starting to pay off the debt. With the money we spend to pay the interest, we could be doing so much–revitalizing the educational system, guaranteeing solid social security and medicare, strengthening defense, the list goes on–it could pay for all of that. Instead, we fail to learn, even as we pay the painful price.

The debt today is $6,787,289,153,093.89 (according to the Treasury Dep’t.). It may very well break $10 trillion by the end of the decade.

Bush claims he has cut our taxes, but the truth is he is raising them tremendously–because the interest on the national debt is a tax, and under Bush, that tax will rise dramatically.

The first step we need to take is to roll back the tax cuts, as the flawed rationale for making them is no longer valid, even under the guise of wishful thinking. The tax cuts have not helped the economy, and it is crystal clear that the wealthy, at least, are not spending the money in ways that revitalize the economy, as claimed. (The Bush people will tell you the jury is still out, but they’re just waiting for the economic tide to turn naturally and then pounce on it to take credit.) Remember when Clinton raised taxes in ’93–and then we had the biggest economic surge in history? Not direct cause-and-effect, to be certain, but absolutely evidence that tax levels and the economy are not exactly linked so tightly.

At the very least, we should immediately repeal all tax cuts given to people making more than, say, half a million dollars a year. (Do I hear shouts of, “But that’s not fair!” Hey, rich people got far more in tax cuts over the past 20 years than the middle class; to make things “fair,” you have to raise their taxes, not cut them.)

After that, we’re going to have to take a long, hard look at how we spend out money–and that means cutting spending on programs both parties prefer. (I hate it when one side accuses the other of overspending, when the “overspending” is always on the priorities of the other parties, never their own. In Washington, everyone, by definition, is a spender.)

Do I have real hope this will happen? Certainly not with the GOP pulling all the strings. They are not exactly known to compromise, and despite past reputation, they are now no longer the party of fiscal responsibility.

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