Shotgun Budgeting and Borrowing

Posted February 7, 2013 at 1:21 pm

by Garrett Hawkins

On a recent commute with my kids, ages 3 and 1, my little girl and I sang with Taylor Swift on the radio. The sing-a-longs keep them entertained when their stash of gummy fruit is gone, and the alternative to singing is screaming. My daughter loves Swift’s chart-topper “Mean.” (It is catchy.) She doesn’t know all of the lyrics, but she always nails the most important line – “Why you gotta be so mean?”

Swift’s question is one I’m certain my daughter will ask her mother and me countless times throughout her adolescence. For nearly any situation I can think of, including the one where I’m cleaning the shotgun on the front porch as her first date pulls in the driveway, I expect my response to “Daddy, why do you have to be so mean?” will be “Because I’m your father and I’m in charge!”

That boyfriend will be long gone when my daughter and her generation, as working adults, come to grips with the enormous financial burden to be dumped on them. When she questions why my generation and those before me were so mean, will we admit we were in charge when the national debt spiraled out of control? We can right the course, but only if we own up to the problem.

Over $5 trillion (that’s 5 followed by 12 zeros!) has been added to our national debt since my little girl was born in 2009. When she turns eight years old in 2017, congressional and executive branch officials project the national debt will range from $18 to $20 trillion unless big changes are made. That’s $55,000 to $62,000 per American citizen. My daughter will have to do more than save Christmas, birthday and Tooth Fairy money to pay her share back.

We hit our debt or borrowing limit, a staggering $16.4 trillion, at the end of 2012, and the Treasury Department has been taking “extraordinary measures” to keep the country from defaulting on its loans.

The U.S. House of Representatives recently voted to extend the debt limit until mid-May and challenged the Senate to complete a budget for the first time in more than three years. The stakes are a little higher with this proposal. If either chamber fails to pass a budget, members serving in that chamber won’t receive a paycheck until they do or the end of the two-year session. The Senate and President Obama still have to sign off on this approach.

It is sad compensation has to be threatened to force a serious budget debate; not having a federal budget shouldn’t even be an option.

In the weeks ahead, we will learn if Washington is truly serious about tackling our fiscal challenges. We will learn something about ourselves: Will we demand, and be willing to accept, the tough decisions to come? The status quo — more borrowing and more spending — saddles our children and grandchildren with an unconscionable debt and guarantees fewer opportunities. Do we really want to be this mean?