Chattanooga Times Free Press Editorial: Corker on Debt and Solution

Oct 3, 2010

With our national debt well over $13 trillion — on which taxpayers must pay a terrible amount of taxes for interest — Congress is outrageously continuing to increase red-ink spending.

That is adding a serious drag on our economy, and is increasing the mortgage on the future of our children and our nation.

To the credit of Chattanooga’s excellent U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, he is not just deploring the problem, but is offering constructive leadership toward alleviating the growing national debt.

Federal spending and federal debt are so great that it is hard for most of us to grasp. But Corker has put the problem in understandable terms that should be appreciated by everyone.

“In 2010,” the senator said, “the federal government will spend $1.47 trillion more than it takes in.

“To put that in perspective,” Corker explained, “in 2008, the average Tennessee household earned $43,000 a year. If that family applied Washington logic to their budgeting, they would have spent $74,000, borrowing 40 cents of every dollar and spending $31,000 more than they earned.”

Anyone should be able to understand that. But a majority of the members of Congress do not seem to understand it, or prefer to ignore reality.

The senator called attention to these pertinent facts: “Non-discretionary or mandatory spending (spending required by law and not subject to the annual congressional appropriations process) is growing. In 1970, discretionary spending (defense, highways, education) was at 62 percent. Mandatory expenditures (Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security) totaled 31 percent. Interest payments equaled 7 percent.

“In 2010, discretionary spending has fallen to 38 percent. Mandatory spending has increased to 56 percent. Interest payments are at 6 percent.

“Projections for 2035 show discretionary spending at 26 percent, mandatory spending at 49 percent and interest payments at a whopping 25 percent.

“In 2009, the federal government spent $187 billion in interest on the debt. That figure dwarfs annual federal spending on the department of transportation ($69 billion), homeland security ($49 billion) and education ($45 billion) and is enough to run the state of Tennessee ($30 billion) for six years.

“Under the administration’s budget projections, U.S. debt service (interest on the debt) will be $916 billion by 2020.”

If those facts noted by Corker are not quite dizzying enough, consider this:

“Fifty years ago, only 5 percent of our debt was held overseas. Today, that figure is 47 percent.”

Corker has emphasized that Communist China “alone owns about 10 percent (9.8 percent or $844 billion)” of our debt. Are we “comfortable” owing that much to Communist China?

Corker hasn’t just called attention to the huge problem. He suggests a way to begin alleviation of it: “The first step in tackling our debt is determining the right level of spending. Over the past 50 years, U.S. federal spending has averaged 20.3 percent of GDP (gross domestic product), and revenue has averaged 10 percent. Erskine Bowles, who served as chief of staff under President Bill Clinton and now co-chairs President Obama’s debt and deficit commission, has said spending should be at about 21 percent of GDP.”

Corker would like to have a balanced federal budget, with spending about 18 percent of GDP.

Doing that would require a $6.7 trillion reduction in spending over the next 10 years, the senator said. Getting to 21 percent, as suggested by Bowles, “would mean reducing spending by $3.4 trillion over the next 10 years.”

Corker says that would require “draconian measures.”

But, he said, “the 10 percent gap between spending and revenue that exists today and the gaps projected in the future are absolutely not sustainable and will bring crisis to our country.”

Obviously, the problem is huge. Even beginning solution would be very difficult — but not beginning solution would be much worse.

“I believe we can solve this problem,” Corker said. “That means living within our means.”

He is displaying responsible national leadership that the president and too many members of Congress are lacking, thus inviting catastrophic consequences.

Wouldn’t you prefer Corker’s option?

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