Magazine article USA TODAY

Iceberg$ Dead Ahead

Magazine article USA TODAY

Iceberg$ Dead Ahead

Article excerpt

IMAGINE a group of passengers playing gin rummy on the Titanic, as it is about to meet its fate. This is the game the President and Congress have been playing with the budget and the deficit over the past year. Shrieks of horror came from the Oval Office over a mere $85,000,000,000 reduction in a 3.6 trillion-dollar budget. At the same time, the White House was bragging that this year's deficit will only be about $850,000,000,000--only?

With interest rates at record lows, the Federal Reserve has been pushing money out the window. The Obama Administration is cashing in on paying these negligible rates on our growing national debt. With low interest rates, investors have seen little return in the bond market and have been flocking to stocks. As of early spring, the gin rummy game is keeping these passengers happy. Job numbers were better and the stock market topped its record high.

Can this continue? This Titanic will not sink tomorrow, but it is hard to believe that it will not soon hit the iceberg. At some point, the Fed will take away the punch bowl and interest rates will begin to climb. Interest payments on the national debt then will eat further into the bud get. In addition, health care costs for Medicare and ObamaCare will take a larger share of the budget.

In response to this, the Republican Party is undergoing a metamorphosis. As the U.S. is losing its taste for military intervention in the Middle East, energy independence, which is just over the horizon, is making that region less important to our national interest. Thus, the neoconservative influence in the Republican Party is declining. The rise of the Tea Party reflects a more pronounced libertarian impulse. A moment to illustrate that growing impulse was the filibuster of Sen. Rand Paul (R.-Ky.) against the use of drones and the growth of Executive Branch power. Another moment was the willingness of many congressional Republicans to accept the defense budget cuts as a part of the 2013 Sequester.

Fiscal restraint and balanced budgets have eluded Republican presidents since Dwight Eisenhower. They either supported increases in the defense budget (Ronald Reagan) or demonstrated a willingness to add more entitlements (Richard Nixon with food stamps and George W. Bush with the prescription drug program). I would guess that a future Republican president would not be championing major increases in the defense budget or lending support for new entitlements. Debt and deficit reduction will be at the heart of such a presidency. If and when that occurs, here are some guidelines to get firm control of our ever-expanding government debt:

* Government should help the poor by giving them opportunities to advance their lives, rather than making their impoverishment a bit more comfortable. Food stamps, rent subsidizes, Medicaid, and child tax credits do alleviate the misery of the poor, but who wants to spend their life living on that? Eventually, it robs people of their self-respect and reduces their incentive to get on. If these benefits pay more than an entry-level job, fewer may want to give up those things and seek employment.

While welfare reform tied AFDC benefits to work, these other programs are not so linked. All such initiatives should be tied either to work or retraining, pushing people toward the world of work. …

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