The logic of the ruling class of both parties is becoming increasingly more baffling. Tuesday, it was reported that President Barack Obama will petition Congress for another debt ceiling increase. Instead of stopgap measures that serve only to kick the problem further down the road, it is time for both parties to look at ways of achieving real, lasting reform by reexamining the appropriate role of government in American society.
According to White House estimates, entitlement spending – the amount of money spent on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, specifically – comes to about 40% of the president’s budget. Defense spending accounts for roughly 35% of the budget. The math is easy, but that is about 75% of federal budget taken up by those two areas – the pet projects, respectively, of the Democrats and the Republicans.
With the war in Iraq officially coming to an end this year, defense spending would be an obvious choice for budget cuts. A stopgap measure signed by Obama earlier this month “award[ed] the Pentagon the smallest budget hike in recent memory,” lamented the Washington Post. Defense hawks are wary of any reduction, not just in the budget for the Department of Defense, but in the amount extra given to the generals in each annual budget.
On the other side of the aisle, it would appear that the entitlement hawks are as nervous to give any ground on their area of interest as are the defense hawks. Medicare is estimated to reach levels of insolvency as early as 2024, while Social Security’s insolvency will be only a few years behind. Without some measure of reform or restructuring, the two programs will not be able to afford to cover all the benefits promised to collectors.
Continuing to raise the debt ceiling, without affecting fundamental changes to the understanding of Washington’s legitimate role, only serves to exacerbate the problem. The current crop of political leaders occupying Washington seems content with political posturing and marginally effective deals. There are deeper issues at play though.
Since the introduction of the New Deal, Americans have grown increasingly dependent on the federal government for social welfare and aid. The problem with that is the government does not generate its own revenue, and so the question becomes one of funding, especially as the number of beneficiaries increases. This is a well-known problem for Ponzi schemes, but the deeper issue, the one that strikes at the very core of left-liberal ideology and morality is whether or not it is the job of the government to provide for the economic welfare of its citizenry.
The right is not immune from criticism and questioning of its own fundamental understanding of the power of the federal government. When President Eisenhower left office, he warned the nation to “guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence … by the military-industrial complex.” He was concerned about the role defense contractors and companies would play in determining policy for the government. Today one-third of the federal budget is taken up by defense spending. If a Republican candidate were even to suggest a possible reduction in defense spending, he would be branded a radical or called naïve. The very thing Eisenhower warned against has come to pass.
For both sides, their pet programs have become moral issues. The left sees someone who thinks it is unfair to tax the rich as a bad person. So, too, does the right see a dovish member as an ostrich-like isolationist with their head in the sand, unwilling to face the dangers of the modern world. A person cannot be expected to concede any ground on moral issues, and so we have this stalemate that has beset the country.
In an election year, it will be difficult for party politics to be put aside for the good of the country. Until both sides are able to understand that their respective parties do not speak for the entire country, the downward spiral will only continue. Party is not religion, and party platforms must not be treated as dogmas. Unless both sides put their favored issues on the chopping block, nothing will be accomplished.
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