Kicking the Can Down the Road...Again


In addition to the seven deadly sins of lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride, I would like to propose an eighth.

Procrastination, otherwise known as kicking the can down the road.

For decades, our nation's leaders have been immersed in the game of kick the can--so much so that we are on the cusp of finding out the consequences of our collective procrastination.

At this very moment, our nation stands at a debt level of $16,520,703,417. With projected deficits of over $1 trillion annually being tacked on to the debt for as far as the eye can see, the U.S. is quickly rising up the ranks of nations in the ratio of our nation's debt to its gross domestic product.

To crunch a few numbers from the Congressional Budget Office, in 2000, the debt-to-GDP ratio in the U.S. was 34%. By 2008, proliferate spending and war expenses during the Bush administration had jacked the number up to 40.5%. In the past four years, that number has spiked to 73%, nearly doubling.

Mind you, the above-cited GDP figure does not include our off-budget indebtedness, specifically IOU's representing cash borrowed from the Social Security Trust Fund. When the reality of this accounting gimmick is included, the real debt-to-GDP in this country is just a hair under 100%!

Newly re-elected, President Barack Obama has not hesitated to reveal himself as the far left politician he is and has always been. He earnestly does not believe our country needs spending cuts. In fact, he proposes to increase spending even further. To compound the problem, no one really has any idea what the actual costs of the Affordable Care Act will be once exchanges and subsidies enter the picture in 2014.

The president's in-your-face form of unabashed far left liberalism might come as a surprise to some who felt he was the centrist he pretended to be prior to his 2012 re-election. It doesn't surprise me. He is a purist of Keynesian economic theory, believing that government spending can grow the economy. He also believes that you can continue to pile taxes on the rich who create jobs in this country, and they will somehow continue their job-creating behavior unaffected and unchanged. While I believe that such thinking belies the realities of economics and running a business, at least it's consistent with the ideology the man has always had, even if he has hidden it throughout his first campaign and first term.

But what about conservatives and the GOP? They give lip service to the notion of fiscal restraint, bringing down spending and debt. When it comes to counting legislative votes, however, they have consistently capitulated. Sequestration cuts of $1.2 trillion were agreed to on a bi-partisan basis as a billy club threat to make sure that the social spending Democrats and defense spending Republicans would somehow agree to that level of cuts distributed in a different fashion. The fiscal cliff deadline loomed, then the "crisis" was averted by--you guessed it--kicking the can down the road, as sequestration cuts were moved to the end of February. Now it appears sequestration cuts will be cancelled altogether or moved out even more months in advance.

Let's face it, the ability to dole out other people's money is the lifeblood of Congressional power. Spending cuts are antithetical to that. Even constituents who demand fiscal responsibility tend to get squishy when cuts hit a little too close to home. In the lexicon of congressional activities, cutting spending is akin to going on a diet, quitting smoking, eating your broccolli--things that we know to be good for us, that we know we need to do, that we can start after the holidays, or after our birthday, or once we are in a less stressful situation, or any of a number of other excuses we can give to put it off until later.

During the state of the Union address, the president reiterates his belief that global warming is a dire immediate crisis...that can somehow be solved through increased taxation and regulation. We don't know exactly how these would correlate, nor do we really know what the future patterns of temperatures and weather will be.

We do, however, know that our debt and deficits are reaching astronomical levels. We know that a generation of retiring baby boomers will be straining the entitlement systems--against which our nation has borrowed "off budget"--in very quantifiable ways. We know that Medicare has already outstripped its trust fund and is consuming operating revenue at a dramatically increasing rate. Unlike global warming theories, we know exactly what happens to countries whose debt and spending levels become unsustainable, because these things have repeated themselves through the course of human history.

In comparison to the U.S. total federal debt to GDP ratio of nearly 100%, that of the financially struggling UK is 71%. Portugal, experiencing a near depression, is at 108%. Greece, the poster child for what happens when the government and its spending get too big to sustain, sits at 145%.

If we do not act now, if we do not keep kicking the can down the road, the legacy we will leave not just our grandchildren's generation but our children's generation too is that of prolonged economic stagnation at best, and economic collapse at its worst.

The tea party sprung up spontaneously in February of 2009 in reaction to excessive government spending in rapid succession in the course of just a few months--including the $700 billion TARP bailout, the $787 billion stimulus bill, the $400 billion supplemental spending bill. Threatened by the message--which simply pointed out reality--soon the tea party was marginalized and treated as right-wing extremists. The GOP takeover of the House in 2010, aided largely by the tea party, served as a check to the president's excessive spending.

In 2012, the re-election of Barack Obama and Republican losses in the House left conservatives and the GOP pointing fingers at each other--and at the tea party. This has left the GOP far more reticent when it comes to spending cuts. Which is why they have punted spending cuts twice already since November 6.

The bottom line of it all is that the lack of political courage does not change the fundamentals of the situation.

We are far too indebted and yet piling on even more debt at an alarming pace. The more we continue this, the more imperiled our nation's fiscal health becomes.

Kicking the can down the road is just another name for procrastination. Risking the fiscal stability of our nation for our chidren and grandchildren truly deserves to be seen as the eighth deadly sin.