“The problem is real. The solution will be painful. There is no easy way out.”
Now those are not words Americans like to hear — after all, we’ve come to require that solutions be pain-free. America is the greatest nation on earth, you know, and normal rules don’t apply.
“America cannot be great if we go broke.”
OK, who is saying this exactly? Oh, the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, made up of prominent members of both political parties. Their report is called “The Moment of Truth,” and it aims to balance the nation’s books before it’s too late.
America has ignored reality for too long, and now reality’s mad and busting down our door. Nowhere is this more clear than in this week’s debate over extending both the Bush tax cuts and unemployment benefits. Both are great for those who benefit from them, but both are also budget-busters in this time when we’re told we need to cut, cut, cut.
Every politician talks a good game on reducing the deficit. But when we actually identify what those cuts are going to look like — a higher tax rate for rich people, a higher retirement age for Social Security — they instantly lose their resolve. We, the people, are to blame, too — we want low (or no) taxes and our streets plowed, pronto.
With no collective will, there’s no way we’re going to cut the deficit. And if we can’t (or won’t), our only hope may be to stimulate the economy. Republicans, who mocked the president’s stimulus plan as worthless, now say their stimulus plan is foolproof. Inject cash into the system in the form of letting rich people keep more of their money and jobs will sprout and we can continue business as usual. (Never mind that it hasn’t worked in the eight years the Bush tax cuts have been in place.)
Any economist will tell you that you can, to a degree, spend your way out of a slump, so maybe we should just go all-in with stimulus efforts like tax cuts, unemployment benefits — anything that might pump up the economy from the spending side.
If that sounds like the way a desperate gambler — with hand after hand falling against him — would play it, you’d be right. And the pile of chips in play is America’s ability to continue to be great in reality, not just in rhetoric.
Some stimulus programs will be part of our economic salvation, but before we bet the country’s future on more of the same spend, spend, spend, we should turn off Dancing With Stars, Skating With the Stars or whatever it is that stars are up to lately and face up to our “Moment of Truth.” And I’m sorry to tell you this, but it’s gonna hurt.