Former comptroller general of the United States and head of the Government Accountability Office David M. Walker says that the recently passed $700B "Wall Street Bailout" bill is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the federal government’s debt obligations:
The ultimate cost of the act should ring up at less than $500 billion, less than the advertised $700 billion because of anticipated proceeds from the government’s sale of the assets it will acquire with the appropriated funds.
The nation’s real tab, on the other hand, amounted to $53 trillion as of the end of the last fiscal year. That was the sum of our public debt; accrued civilian and military retirement benefits; unfunded, promised Social Security and Medicare benefits; and other financial obligations
Sort of makes the bailout look more like we’re bailing water out of a sinking boat, doesn’t it?
The numbers are a little fanciful in that Walker’s counting as debt obligations that are due in the future, as opposed to the current $10T of real debt that we’ve already borrowed. But given that we’re likely to be running a budget deficit for the next few years at least, Walker’s numbers seem very likely to become reality.
A good place to start would be for the presidential candidates to acknowledge our $53 trillion (and growing) federal financial hole and commit to begin to address it. Their endorsement of the need for a bipartisan fiscal future commission along the lines of the one sponsored by Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tennessee, and Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Virginia, also would make sense.
Any such commission should, at a minimum, address the need for statutory budget controls, comprehensive Social Security reform, a first round of tax reform and a first round of comprehensive health care reform. It should hold hearings both inside and beyond the Beltway. And, its recommendations should be guaranteed to receive an up-or-down vote by Congress if a super-majority of the commission’s members can agree on a comprehensive proposal.
Indeed, "statutory budget controls" are the ideal place to begin any discussion of the national debt and the federal budget alike. The failure to reign in spending has been among the Bush administration’s most egregious blunders. Moreover, Congress’ consistent passage of bloated budgets larded with "sweeteners", as Walker kindly puts it before calling them what they really are – bribes – makes their barely double-digit approval rating seem well-deserved.
One way to solve part of the problem would be, as Polimom Says, to throw the bums out of office. The best way to do that, it seems to me, is to enact term limits.
Insiders and their cronies will undoubtedly protest too much, saying that Washington is too complex to function without people with decades of experience. This is true only insofar as the intertwined overgrowth corruption these people have allowed to flourish continues to exist. I say if the government is too complicated for a citizen with a college education and 40 years of life experience under his (or her, Sarah) belt to comprehend, that demonstrates a problem with the structure and function of government, not the would-be legislator.
Off with their heads! We may not save the trillions we need to recoup from their pork barrels, but jerking the heads of a few hundred bloated ne’er-do-wells out of the government trough and onto the chopping block would at least remove a few hundred pounds of ugly fat from our nation’s capital.