Politicians fiddle while fiscal crisis looms

by John Stossel

Imagine this family budget: Last year, you earned $24,700. But you spent $37,900, incurring $13,300 in debt, and you were already $153,500 in debt.

So you say, “I promise I’ll spend $300 less this year!” Anyone can see that your cutback is pathetic and that you need to spend much less.

Yet if you add eight zeroes, that’s America’s budget. The president says again that he will cut spending — but don’t be fooled. He wants to spend more on some items, those he euphemistically calls “invest[ment] in the things that will help grow our economy.” (As though politicians can know what a free market would reveal.)

He says he wants to reduce the deficit by raising taxes on the rich — but again, don’t be fooled. Even if he took every penny over $1 million from the rich, it would reduce the deficit by only $616 billion.

The politicians are spending us into oblivion. But I can’t blame only them. TheAmerican people are complacent. We like thegoodies. We think we’re getting something fornothing. We are like alcoholics who know wehave a problem but just can’t resist one last fi x.

One more infrastructure bill or jobs plan willjumpstart the economy. Then we’ll kick ourspending addiction once and for all.But we don’t stop spending. Almost allbudget categories grow, even when adjustedfor infl ation. This is a break with most ofAmerica’s history. When the economy grewmost dramatically, government was less than 5percent of gross domestic product. Today, it’swell over 20 percent.

Since Lyndon Johnson’s War on Povertybegan in the late 1960s, government spendinghas gone up relentlessly. This is just notsustainable. So what do we do? We mustcut. But I fear Americans aren’t up for that.People on the street told me that the budgetis out of control.

But when I then askedthem, “What would you cut?” most juststared ahead.But there’s plenty to cut. We can easily cutthings like foreign aid, NPR, Amtrak and postoffi ce subsidies, and the war on drugs. Butwe should not pretend that such cuts wouldbe enough to stop the coming crisis. They’renot. Killing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac anda hundred other subsidy programs would helpmore. But that still makes only a dent in thedefi cit.

To really save America, we need to cutwhole departments: commerce, energy, education,agriculture, labor. We don’t need them.Commerce just happens. It doesn’t need anexpensive Cabinet department that hands outmoney to politically connected businesses.The same is true for the energy and agriculturedepartments. Some states now have moreagriculture bureaucrats than farmers!Education is not a federal responsibility.

Federal spending of $106 billion a year has notraised test scores one bit.Now I’ve cut $329 billion. It’s still notenough.The military is about a fi fth of the budget.I want to support our troops, but we coulddo that and save money if the administrationwould shrink the military’s mission to what itis supposed to be: protecting us from externalthreats. We cannot put America on a road tosolvency without cutting military spending, too.Of course, what will really bankrupt Americaare entitlements, especially Medicare.

That’sthe big one.Why even call it an entitlement? Are weentitled to the money? People think we are, butthe money is taken from the taxpayers — byforce. The program is totally unsustainable. Wenow live so long that most of us get back aboutthree times what we paid into these programs.So we have to raise the retirement age,maybe index it to life spans, and turnMedicare into an insurance plan that sustainsitself. That will mean that if I want the latestin high-end medicine, I have to pay for itmyself.

We’re on the way to becoming Greece— while our “leaders” stand and watch. Acatastrophe is happening before our eyes, butthe politicians won’t act to avert it. How didthey ever end up with enough power to sinkour society?

John Stossel is host of “Stossel” onthe Fox Business Network. He’s theauthor of Give Me a Break and of Myth,Lies, and Downright Stupidity. © !