The Sound of an Empire Falling

If $64 Trillion dollars fell from a tree in the woods, and there was nobody there to spend it, would it be a debit or a credit?

There is a lot of talk these days about the national debt.  Typically the number is said to be anywhere between $10-12 Trillion.  Unfortunately, according to the Peter G. Petersen foundation, an organization chaired by the former Comptroller General of the US, David Walker, the number is closer to $64 Trillion of total, un-funded obligations that the US is required by law to pay.

Americans need to understand that this is our fault.  Not some imaginary “them”, or greedy wall-street bankers, or the Chinese, or fat cat union members with bloated pensions.  It is our fault.  A collective condition we have brought on ourselves through our everyday greed, complacency, and lack of responsibility when it comes to being citizens in a democratic society.

It starts in small ways.  At Starbucks.  Do the math.  Coffee as an experience?  Are we really paying so little attention, that we go to Starbucks everyday but complain about the cost of our healthcare co-pay?

It manifests itself in big ways as well.  Every single dollar spent by the federal government today, and everyday for the foreseeable future (and by foreseeable future I mean like the next 100 years) is borrowed.  The tax dollars you paid in April are paying for promises and programs from decades ago.  The dollars we are actually spending today, are being borrowed, and will have to be paid back decades from now by our grandchildren, with lots of interest.

Today, when our parents or grandparents leave this earth, they often pass on the family home and sentimental possessions.  The watch your Dad wore his entire life or the broach your Mom got when she was married.  If we are very fortunate, maybe insurance money or a nest egg earmarked for the grandchildren.  But never do they pass on their debt.  Imagine your parents passing away, and getting a bill equal to at least all the money you make in an entire year.  And imagine having no choice but to pay that bill today, and going into debt to pay those creditors. Think about that money leaving your checking account – today! Then go borrow money to cover your bills.

This is exactly what we are doing to our next generation.  I am of Generation X.  It is said that we have had no defining moment in our experience.  No WWII, no Vietnam, no civil rights movement.  I can now respectfully disagree.  To the other Gen X’ers out there; this is ours.  This is our generational challenge.  Our country is going bankrupt, and we are going to have to deal with it.

These are things we don’t want to hear.  For saying them, I probably disqualify myself for any public office.  We are going to have to cut spending in massive ways.  We are going to have to raise taxes in massive ways.  These are the only two things we can do.  There are no options left, and we have to do both.  The truth is dangerous and it’s bad for elections.  But it’s still the truth.

As if that were not bad enough, here’s the real problem.  Our current political system is broken, and is not capable of taking action.  The same human nature that leads bankers to take excessive risks, and leads teachers unions to bankrupt states in the name of public service, leads our Senators and Congressmen to tell us what we want to hear, in order to stay in power.

It’s time to use a mechanism that exists, but is rarely used.  That is the peoples right to amend the Constitution.  We must amend the Constitution to do two things.  First, term limit Congress so their role is as temporary stewards of government, not career politicians.  Second, we must make it constitutionally mandatory to balance the budget.

I propose the following four part constitutional amendment.

  1. The term of an elected member of the House of Representatives shall be extended from 2 years to 3, and an individual can be elected to the House of Representatives for no more than 3 terms.
  2. An individual may be elected to the Senate for no more than (2) 6-year terms.
  3. An individual may not serve in the Congress, either as a Senator, or Member of the House, for more than 12 years total, whether by election, or by serving out the term of someone else.
  4. The Congress is required to submit a balanced budget each year.  Only by executive order during time of war or national emergency, may the President excuse the Congress of this obligation.

These simple amendments to the US Constitution will enable politicians to act in the nations best interest regardless of the electoral consequences, free them from constant campaigning and fundraising, and delegate the President the sole responsibility and accountability for managing the deficit.

I’m not a lawyer or a political pro.  There are probably better ways to word these amendments, but keeping it simple is the key.  Don’t let politicians get so attached to their job that they are scared to tell us the truth.  And don’t let government spend more than it takes in.

Now back to the title of this post.  “The Sound of an Empire Falling”.  Do we not hear the tree falling or do we not care?  Do we not believe the roots are weakening, or do we not understand? Unlike Greece, there will be nobody big enough to bail us out when this great oak falls.

We got ourselves into this mess, and we need to get ourselves out. It’s really kind of simple.

What do you think?

Guest Blogger – Jeff Hine

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