As President Barack Obama, Speaker of the House John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid stage their public slap fight over how to fund the government, what services to shutter while it's technically "shutdown," and the extent to which that legislative turd known as Obamacare should be included or not in the final outcome, the clearest point is this: organisms of greater value than these three politicians could be dredged from your septic tank while you're looking for that Barbie doll head your niece flushed. Those organisms would likely be more effective at addressing this country's real budget problem, which is a federal goverment that continuously spends vastly more money than it has any hope of taking in, and which demonstrates no interest in changing its ways in the foreseeable future.
As much as I would like to drive a stake through the heart of Obamacare and put it out of our misery, I strongly suspect the program needs little help along those lines. The new exchanges are already running into a few hitches signing up customers, and small business owners—intended beneficiaries of the program—scream about byzantine rules, burdensome paperwork demands and lack of choice. Obamacare shows every sign of stumbling its own way into the nation's nightmares.
Already a nightmare, though, is the federal government's spending addiction—and there's no credible Freddy Krueger in sight to take something sharp to the budget. Members of Congress seem quite content to debate the small stuff, while the long-term disaster they've eagerly pushed this country toward looms ever-closer.
On September 17 of this year, the Congressional Budget Office issued its latest warning of doom:
Between 2009 and 2012, the federal government recorded the largest budget deficits relative to the size of the economy since 1946, causing federal debt to soar. Federal debt held by the public is now about 73 percent of the economy’s annual output, or gross domestic product (GDP). That percentage is higher than at any point in U.S. history except a brief period around World War II, and it is twice the percentage at the end of 2007. If current laws generally remained in place, federal debt held by the public would decline slightly relative to GDP over the next several years, CBO projects. After that, however, growing deficits would ultimately push debt back above its current high level. CBO projects that federal debt held by the public would reach 100 percent of GDP in 2038, 25 years from now, even without accounting for the harmful effects that growing debt would have on the economy (see the figure below). Moreover, debt would be on an upward path relative to the size of the economy, a trend that could not be sustained indefinitely.
The 2013 Long-Term Budget Outlook went on to caution that its initial predictions are relatively optimistic, because they're made "without factoring in the harm that growing debt would cause to the economy."
The CBO's frightening projections assume that federal revenues will average 19.5 percent of GDP, which is a bit higher than the 17.5 percent averaged over the past four decades. That 19.5 percent may or may not be achievable (pushing the government's take of GDP higher has long been a challenge, and the official tax compliance rate has dipped a bit in recent years), But even if that level of revenue is reached:
The gap between federal spending and revenues would widen steadily after 2015 under the assumptions of the extended baseline, CBO projects. By 2038, the deficit would be 6½ percent of GDP, larger than in any year between 1947 and 2008, and federal debt held by the public would reach 100 percent of GDP, more than in any year except 1945 and 1946. With such large deficits, federal debt would be growing faster than GDP, a path that would ultimately be unsustainable.
So, federal suspending practices are "unsustainable" and involve "harm that growing debt would cause to the economy," but Obama, Boehner, and Reid are pissing and moaning about unecessarily closed parks, furloughed federal workers who will get their back pay in a couple of weeks and whose fault it is that the government hasn't been granted permission to borrow more money. (The president's enablers want him to show a little imperial spirit and borrow the money illegally and unilaterally).
Back up the pump truck. It's time to go dredging for new political figures.