Our View: Federal debt: National issue can hurt local pocketbooks

February 17, 2019

After one partial government shutdown and another month of debate over whether to spend another $1.3 billion or $5.7 billion on “The Wall,” word is finally getting out that the United States government doesn’t really have the money for either one.

The federal government is metaphorically living on credit cards, passing a trillion dollar spending bill here and a trillion dollar spending bill there and then slapping a lot more on the plastic.

A lot more. The national debt rose some either $21 or $22 trillion last week, depending on the source. (but what’s another trillion, right?) This year’s new debt will swell some $750 billion to $1 trillion.

Some are finally and rightly and loudly sounding a warning that this is unsustainable, threatening an economic crisis that affects households as much as the federal government.

Debt camouflages the true cost of spending by the federal government. Each time another billion or trillion is spent using credit, the cost rises because of interest payments. That new trillion dollar spending bill may well cost an extra few billion or more, depending on the length of the “loan” from investors.

Debt payments amount to hundreds of billions of dollars each year, enough to pay for a full wall at both south and north borders. Enough to pay for hundreds of new schools filled with highly paid teachers. Pick your purchase, a billion dollars goes a long way.

President Trump is getting blame for the increasing debt. That’s partially fair because he’s the man who has the power to decrease the spending right now.

The problem started and grew during the past few presidents, exploding even more during the Great Recession.

It’s unfortunate that more attention hasn’t focused on overall spending during the debate over border security.

The truth is that wall spending was stuck inside a trillion dollar spending bill and would, at most, account for only a small percent of the overall spending. None of the lawmakers and none of the TV talking heads said a peep about the other $995 billlion.

Debt payments will take a disproportionate amount of federal spending if the trend continues, forcing the government to pay investors rather than to build roads, schools, walls or provide health care.

If borrowing continues at this rate, investors (China’s the largest, by the way) will demand higher interest rates to continue lending money. This will raise interest rates and make household and business borrowing more expensive.

Current and future debts need more attention from lawmakers and they’ll only pay attention if the public demands it.

There’s at least one proposed bill that requires full debt disclosure on any spending measure. That’s a good start. A better way to go would be to require a corresponding spending reduction for every new proposed expenditure.

This is an under-recognized national issue that will, unchecked, drill deeply into the pocketbooks of every American household.

— Today’s News-Herald

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