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BLOG: Got $51,000 to Pay Off Your Share of the National Debt?

Cutting government spending as an alternative to raising taxes.

Mitt vs. Barack. Sounds like 49ers vs. the Raiders. 

A lot of political passion is in play, without much deep thinking behind it. Republican or Democrat, Green or Libertarian party – most people have chosen to march under a particular banner.

To me, the overriding issue of this presidential election (and elections for Congress) is the national debt and the continuing annual deficit. It’s like climate change – we know it’s not good, but we seem powerless to do anything about it.

Yet, my thinking is: People got us into this financial mess, and people can get us out of this mess.

Here’s the fact: If you divided the USA’s national debt (sixteen trillion dollars) by the number of citizens, you’d find that each one of us would owe around $51,000. A family of four, $204,000.

There are two main ways to reduce the debt: Raise taxes and/or reduce government spending.

My hunch about the national debt is that it mainly got started during the Roosevelt years of the Great Depression, when there were so many public works projects to hire the unemployed, followed soon after by World War II, when we had to spend so much to fight wars on opposite sides of the world. Of course, wars are cast as emergencies, so we can justify spending more money than we’re receiving from taxes. Problem was, once government got used to deficit spending, it continued on into the peacetime years. And since World War II, we’ve had the expensive wars in Korea, Viet Nam and Iraq and Afghanistan to spike deficit spending.

Also, our system of government is partly to blame. It’s all well and good to have local representation in Washington, but there’s also the expectation that when we elect someone (and big campaign contributors have even more expectations) they will “bring home the bacon.” That is, they will work to bring government business or government projects or grants to the home district. They will work to keep military bases open even if they’re not needed. You might say that in a democracy, everyone gets to have their hand in the cash register. The idea that government shouldn’t spend more than it takes in is hit hard by our traditional “earmark” democracy. Our congresspeople need to think of national interests as well as their local interests.

Raising taxes is never politically popular, especially during an election year, so reducing government spending is the more attractive alternative.

Does anyone think that the federal government (and the state government for that matter) has made a genuine, serious effort to reduce spending so as to reduce the national debt? I’m not looking here at entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare. I’m looking at the various departments such as commerce, interior, defense, and so on. A tip-off to me is that federal grant money for non-essential projects keeps on flowing like there’s no tomorrow. For example, there were many, many Homeland Security grants that were spent on items and projects that had nothing to do with national security. The money was just made available, and of course it was bad form to return the money even if grant applications weren’t pertinent to the security mission.

When you talk to government employees, you often hear of wasted money. “Use it or lose it,” is often the mantra associated with federal funding.

And then there’s foreign aid. I can see some foreign aid to poor countries with disasters, such as Indonesia when the tsunami hit. But many, many millions to Mexico, Israel and Egypt? Some of the foreign aid goes to countries which in turn lend some of that money back to us by buying U.S. government bonds or securities. And some goes to countries to buy military equipment from U.S. manufacturers – which is a handout to those manufacturers.

Now I’m going to make a statement that will anger some, especially because we have Travis AFB nearby and many vets (but I myself am a Viet Nam vet).

Romney wants to increase military spending; Obama has been slowly reducing military spending, and is pulling out of Afghanistan. The brutal fact is that the U.S. way overspends on its military. We have fighter jets costing $150 million each, and most of those planes will be obsolete and replaced with the next and even more expensive fighter jets without ever having been used in war. China is supposed to be a threat, and yet the U.S. spends more than six times as much on its military. In fact, the U.S. spends as much on its military as the next 20 nations combined. That shows just how out of whack our military spending is.  

It’s nice to have a strong military, but what’s happening is that while posting naval, air and ground forces at bases all around the world (which are of only limited help in these days of guerilla warfare), eating up so much of our federal budget (around 20 percent of it), it’s a major factor in creating the annual federal spending deficit. Meanwhile, other nations are only too happy to let us carry burden of being the world’s policeman.

It’s like being a giant carrying a big stick while having exhausted its food supplies, and growing weak from within (because all the deficit spending makes this nation vulnerable).  

However, we do need to maintain our help to wounded or diminished-capacity veterans of many wars.

In many elections, advocating for increased (or the same) military expenditures is touted as being patriotic.  Is it patriotic when we’re forced to borrow more money from China?

In closing, I’d like to suggest that we could cut back on a lot of federal government spending if our leaders had the courage to do so. But it would seem that they’re skating along, playing power politics to see which party can run the country to benefit their special-interest contributors and friends. They hope in the meantime that prosperous times will return, bringing in more tax revenue and making a small dent in the annual deficit.

At least in smaller cities like [the ones that surround Sacramento], great pains are taken to balance the budget. Maybe that’s because our city leaders live right among us and have to look us in the eye.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Aaron October 11, 2012 at 05:59 PM
You got it almost right Bil. I don't care what people say, the fact is, Romney's 47% quote is pretty accurate. Since almost half of adults don't have federal tax liability, and because our children do not have federal tax liability, my own share of the national debt is closer to the $200K. We do need to cut spending... to include military spending. We don't need to increase taxes on the one already picking up the entire tab. If anything, we need to start taxing the ones that currently have no skin in the game. If everyone had some federal income tax liability, perhaps the decisions in Washington would be better since EVERYONE would be affected financially..? For those that think taxing the rich more and more is the answer... Please refer to the Laffer Curve of economics. We just can't keep raising taxes. Eventually, the return drops off drastically. (We are there now.) You just can't tax your way into economic recovery!!
TheRealBigCouchPotato October 16, 2012 at 02:22 AM
Just declare the debt paid...pay off all the bond holders by saying the debt is paid. Since the money is just paper...or just figures in a computer why not?

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