EDITORIAL: Our leaders show no political will when it comes to controlling deficit

York Dispatch Editorial Board
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  • The United States is producing annual budget deficits in the $1 trillion range.
  • The deficit showed a 77 percent spike over the first four months of the budget year.
  • The United States has a current debt north of $22 trillion.

It’s hard to believe, but less than two decades ago, in 2001, the United States had a budget surplus.

Back then, however, the budget was considered an actual financial document, not a symbolic political statement.

In the years since, however, the idea of a balanced U.S. budget has become a quaint notion from a bygone era. Today, the budget is mostly used to score political points.

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Yes, our lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and our president continue pay lip service to the goal of a balanced budget.

However, when it comes time to make the hard decisions necessary to balance the budget, few politicians are willing to put their necks, and their careers, on the line.

Instead, they seem to shrug and simply kick the budget can down the road for someone else to deal with.

As budget deficit balloons, few in Washington seem to care

“Concern about the deficit is so woefully out of fashion that it’s hard to even imagine it coming back into fashion,” said Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., who is one of his party’s few remaining deficit hawks. “This is as out of fashion as bell bottoms.”

President Donald Trump

Staggering numbers: That kind of attitude, by both Democrats and Republicans, has produced annual deficits approaching $1 trillion and a debt north of $22 trillion.

President Trump’s latest budget arrived this week as his own Treasury Department shows a 77 percent spike in the deficit over the first four months of the budget year, driven by falling revenues and steady spending growth.

Trump’s 2017 tax cuts bear much of the blame for the deficit growth, along with sharp increases in spending for defense and domestic agencies and the growing federal retirement costs of the baby-boom generation.

Many Democrats, in the face of such staggering numbers, have also shown little stomach for balancing the budget. Instead, the more progressive members of the party have promoted costly proposals such as Medicare for All and the Green New Deal, without realistic plans to pay for them.

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Proposed budget: Trump’s budget has proposed large increases for defense and his beloved border wall, with large cuts to domestic agency spending.

The cuts, however, have almost zero chance of getting past the Democratically-controlled House of Representatives, and Trump has shown almost no willingness to put up a real fight for his cuts.

In fact, he seems completely uninterested in controlling the deficit.

The deficit, however, is not just a Trump issue. There is a decided lack of political will from both parties to attack the problem.

History shows there's a cost for courage: Today’s politicians saw what happened when lawmakers negotiated bipartisan deficit-cutting deals in 1990 and 1993 that eventually led to several years of budget surpluses around the turn of the century. President George H.W. Bush lost re-election in 1992 and President Bill Clinton saw his party lose control of Congress in 1995.

Our leaders back then were willing, at least occasionally, to put country first and party second. At times, they were willing to exercise the art of compromise and, in the process, put their own political futures in jeopardy to do what was right.

Yes, some of them paid a personal price, but our nation was the beneficiary.

That kind of political courage no longer exists.

Unfortunately, our children and grandchildren will likely bear a heavy burden for the cowardice of today’s so-called leaders.