11 hours: ducking responsibility and leading from behind

Sunday marked a historic milestone in the history of the US Senate

CORRECTION TO THIS ARTICLE: This article claims that the national debt almost tripled in three years after Obama took office. It actually went up by 33 percent.

The United States has a spending problem. Like an immature teenager with a brand new credit card, it keeps purchasing and purchasing with no regard as to how the purchases will ultimately be paid for.

But for members of the federal government, when it comes to addressing the issue of deficit spending, it is almost like watching an episode of Kids Say the Darndest Things. Line up those in charge of affecting fiscal policy and be prepared for some of the craziest, nonsensical one-liners you can imagine. Take Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner for instance — how would he address federal deficit spending? “You are right to say … ‘we [don’t] have a definitive solution to that long-term problem (deficit spending).’ What we do know is, we don’t like yours (the Republican budgets).” Or, we don’t have a plan ourselves, but we do know that we don’t like your plan.

Well, the Treasury Secretary himself is not an adequate sample size. Surely there are other members of the government who do have a plan? How about Harry Reid, Senate Majority Leader? “We do not need to bring a budget to the floor this year. It’s done. We don’t need to do it,” he said.

In other words: maybe next year, folks. The interesting thing about next year, though, it never seems to roll around. In fact, as of Sunday, the U.S. Senate had failed to pass a budget for three straight years. Think about that — three years, or about two and a half times as long as it took to build the Empire State Building. By the time the Senate considers passing a budget again, it will have been possible for someone to get two MBAs, or an MIT bachelor’s degree. Meanwhile, the House has passed a budget for each of the past two years. Like any prolonged problem, there are long term solutions that can be implemented to ultimately reverse the damage, and create new opportunity.

One essential step is to have a plan — any plan. And for the federal government that means a budget. Recently, President Obama has been discussing a possible solution to the issue of the national deficit — the proposed Buffett Rule. It seems to be the single most important piece of economic reform the administration is currently touting. This proposed law would raise the minimum amount of taxes paid by individuals making more than one million dollars per year. Sounds like a good plan. After all, the way to pay off credit is by having more money, right? Finally, a bold solution to a major problem. Running the numbers, the Buffett Rule would result in tax increases on a whopping .15 percent of Americans, and the 5 billion dollars it would raise would allow us to fully pay off our deficit for an impressive 11 hours.

Truth is, on the issue of spending reform, President Obama and the 111th Congress inherited a mess. Deficits and the national debt had been climbing for almost a decade, and government expenditures had increased thanks to two costly wars and increased entitlement spending, the legacy of the Bush administration. The time was ripe for change, and this was a chance for the new administration to fix the problem before it got too big. Unfortunately though, the administration not only failed to address the problem, it furthered it. The national debt exploded, almost tripling in three years, and as a percent of GDP is projected to hit 90 percent by 2020 (up from 41 percent in 2008). The debt has maintained its increase even while both wars have come to a close.

Meanwhile, the federal government has relied on short-term continuing resolutions to continue operating. Balanced Budget amendments were ridiculed, and pork-spending reform was not even addressed. Medicare reform was out of the question, and K-12 education spending (up 219 percent over the past decade) was off-limits. The president’s budgets have been so outlandish that not a single Senator voted for his proposed 2012 budget, and not a single house member voted for his proposed 2013 budget.

This is the essence of leading from behind and ducking responsibility. It is a shame that those in positions of authority who have the ability to put our fiscal house in order have not done so. It is time for the president and the Senate to finally propose real solutions to this very real problem.