In yesterday’s edition of the Grand Rapids Press, editorial page editor Ed Golder reflects on the implications of the historically-high levels of government spending, the deficit, and debt.
Most impressively, Golder notes where the government is actually spending money, and it is largely not in the areas of discretionary spending that so many politicians like to talk about. Golder writes,
Neither party is forthrightly honest about what needs to be done. Making the necessary cuts touches on very large and politically sacrosanct programs. About one fifth of federal spending, for instance, is defense. Can we seriously tackle the budget without looking at some prized weapons programs?
And the biggest category of spending, the one growing at the fastest rate, is entitlements – Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and health insurance for children.
We may have to accept the idea that rich people will pay more than poorer people for medical coverage. We will almost certainly, given life expectancies, have to work longer before receiving Social Security benefits.
Reform of defense spending is important. But the real key is entitlement reform. I’ve often thought that one lasting legacy of the Bush era (beyond the wars and the Great Recession) is found in his insistence on bringing to the national discussion the issue of entitlement reform, particularly Social Security. He wasn’t successful, but it did show some principled political courage to make Social Security reform a major policy goal of his administration.
Golder also relates this entertaining little anecdote:
Speaking to the Economic Club of Grand Rapids Monday, financial forecaster Jason Trennert, was asked by an audience member to handicap Washington’s ability to make meaningful headway in tackling the debt. He wryly quoted theologian Augustine of Hippo, who famously quipped, “Lord make me chaste, but not yet.”
In other words: Sure, we’ll reform. Tomorrow.
Tomorrow’s here. Heck, tomorrow may be yesterday at this point.
Golder rightly concludes by pointing to the need for leadership on these pressing fiscal issues. We’ve gotten to this place largely because of a lack of political leadership. “Our leaders have to talk frankly about what needs to be done – programs that will be cut, individual sacrifices that will have to be made,” writes Golder.
Instead of statesmen we’ve been electing those who could bring home the most pork for their districts and constituencies, damn the consequences. That needs to change, and it begins in the renewal of leadership in other spheres of social life, including the family, business, charity, education, and so on.