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We aren’t serious about the national debt

By Staff | Feb 11, 2011

The effort to deal with the mushrooming national debt is dead in the water. Even the Tea Party will not do much to move the agenda because, when the chips are down, too many of the Tea Party folks are in on the tea.

After the issuance of the Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform report calling on us to sacrifice today to avoid catastrophe tomorrow, everyone benefiting from under-taxation or government over-spending vanished like pocket gophers.

When it comes to raising taxes, the Tea Party people will join everyone else in fighting to the death for low taxes. Case in point: there was massive support for extension of the Bush tax cuts even though the taxes were needed to deal with the debt. Suddenly, the debt wasn’t important.

When it comes to restructuring Medicare, too many folks are in the program to make benefit-cutting possible. We have over 100,000 North Dakotans on Medicare and you can bet that every one of the recipients will oppose any sort of trimming even though the average Medicare beneficiary is getting three times more in benefits than he/she has put into the program. Will those 100,000 step forward to support higher premiums or fewer benefits to keep the country from going over the fiscal edge? Not likely.

Abolish earmarks? Who is kidding who? Even though Congress has announced a policy of no earmarks, a new process will be restructured so that North Dakota and the rest of the country can keep “bringing home the bacon” while preaching fiscal responsibility.

Then there are the declarations of disasters sought early and often by various governmental entities to get the federal government to pay for National Guard expenses, indemnification of losses, and buying out damaged property. Will governmental entities forego this drain on the federal treasury?

Half of the 6500 folks in North Dakota nursing homes are being financed by Medicaid at a cost of $3,600 a year. And some of those folks made themselves eligible for this welfare program by disposing of all of their land, stocks and other valuables. Will any of the relatives take their needy parents back home or share in nursing home costs?

The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform has asked everyone to absorb a little hurt. It is obvious that the request has fallen on deaf years. We seem to oppose the national debt in the abstract but favor spending in the specific.

The first step in responding to the fiscal crisis is to get all of these anti-tax and pro-government groups to quit sowing resistance among their members. They need to create an atmosphere of give-and-take, not promote a fight to the finish. The next step is to put tax increases and program cuts in the same piece of legislation so everyone can sacrifice together.

Unless the champions of all ideologies are willing to meet and trade, the debt will continue to grow. Thus far, we haven’t seen anything like that happening. It’s like Christianity. It’s more fun talking about it than doing it.

Omdahl is a UND professor emeritus in political science and a former lieutenant governor of North Dakota.

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