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August 25 2009

As Country Slips into Greater Debt, Will Politicians Pay?

Nicole Kurokawa Neily

Probably not, unfortunately.

The government revised its 10-year deficit projections yesterday from $7.1 trillion to $9 trillion. That's trillion with a T - as in $9,000,000,000,000 - as in twelve zeros.

From The New York Times:

The government's total debt would roughly triple by 2019, to $17.5 trillion, under the new estimate, almost $2 trillion more than the White House estimated in May. Measured as a share of the nation's economic output, public debt would hit 76.5 percent of gross domestic product by 2019 - by far the highest percentage in the past half-century - from about 56 percent this fiscal year. This year will be the first time the number has exceeded 50 percent since World War II. The previous estimate was about 67 percent.

If you owed 76.5 cents in debt for every dollar you earned, you would be considered... bankrupt. The nation's looming fiscal insolvency is mind-boggling. Lovely legacy to leave our children, indeed.

To be fair, the Obama administration cannot shoulder the full blame for our current economic predicament. George W. Bush and a Republican-dominated Congress spent more than the previous six administrations, including LBJ (and were punished at the ballot boxes accordingly.)

CNN's David Gergen reminds us what these revised numbers mean for the current President, however:

Health care reform was already in growing trouble before this report. These deficit projections clearly add another significant threat to its passage. The administration will now have to persuade Congress and a skeptical public that it would be financially prudent to embark upon an ambitious new entitlement program in the teeth of dangerously growing deficits.

As vital and as morally right as it is to extend health insurance to everyone in need, the public is also wise to worry about the costs of robust reform. People have long memories, and they will recall that when Medicare was passed in the mid-1960s during the LBJ years, the House Ways and Means Committee projected that Medicare would cost about $12 billion in 1990; in 1990, it reportedly cost some $107 billion.

When Washington enacted prescription drug reform in the George W. Bush years, the administration put a price tag on it of $400 billion over nine years; new estimates have projected a cost of $724 billion over nine years. More recently, Massachusetts has embraced a health reform plan that is widely hailed - and serves as a model for the national effort this year - but it, too, has far outstripped original cost estimates.

In view of all this, President Obama has a choice. He can push forward with health reform efforts, giving short shrift to these deficit concerns. If so - if he continues to insist that Washington is just too "wee-weed up" - he will find that some of his strongest allies will become more reluctant on a big health reform bill this year.

Will the administration throw in the towel on health care reform in favor of addressing this ticking time bomb, however? It's unlikely.

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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