Too Much Debt, Not Enough Solutions

That’s the title of a recent opinion piece written by Alan Simpson and Maya MacGuineas. Simpson is a former Wyoming senator and was the co-chair of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (the Simpson-Bowles commission). That commission offered common sense approaches to controlling the national debt in the report it issued in 2010. The commission’s findings were of course ignored by the President and Congress because they couldn’t reach a consensus. Politicians kick the can down the road when someone, such as the commission tells them, “Our fiscal challenges are real. The solutions will be painful, and there is no easy way out.” Those words will never escape the lips of a politician whose primary focus is getting reelected.

The national debt has increased markedly in the past few years, and is approaching $18.5 trillion dollars. The article points out that people have a difficult time conceptualizing a trillion dollars. “If you spend a buck a second, you won’t hit a trillion for 32,500 years. If you spent a million a day since the birth of Christ, you wouldn’t be at a trillion yet.”

The headlines today indicate that our current politicians are not ready to take action on getting the debt under control. The new grand plan that was cobbled together to prevent a government shutdown increases the debt by $80 billion over the next two years. Debt has increased from 34 percent of the GDP in 2007 to 74 percent today. Further increases will only add to the crushing problem we are willing to leave to future generations.

Co-author of the article MacGuineas is president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget and head of Campaign to Fix the Debt. I predict the AARP won’t like anything that the committee or the campaign recommends.

Social Security Projections

The U.S. deficit continues to grow out of control, and there should have been actions taken to address the problem long before now. However, President Obama’s comments that the deficit is not a short term problem indicates to me we won’t do anything about the deficit for the next four years. Much of the problem is caused by “entitlement” commitments, and President Obama said in his inaugural address that he has no intention of doing anything about those either.

I’m baffled how the American people and the media are going along with the “don’t worry, be happy” approach. Looking at Social Security alone is frightening. A recent article by Chuck Saletta on the Motley Fool points out that each new analysis finds that the program will reach “financial unsustainability” sooner than the previous analyses. The Social Security Trustees reported in 2008 that problems would not be encountered until 2041. The date has now changed to 2033, and that is going to continue to move closer.

Money taken from employees and employers is invested in bonds, and bonds that mature must be replaced with new ones. The older bonds were yielding much more in interest than the ones currently available. The program is projected to earn $5.4 billion less in bond interest in 2012. The fact the Federal Reserve has recently said they are going to artificially keep interest rates low until the unemployment rate begins to drop means the revenue is not going to improve. Continue reading