Are Americans serious about debt? We’ll soon know

(Centennial Fellow) The next two years will almost certainly determine whether Americans possess the resolve and courage necessary to save our country from fiscal disaster.

If we do not, then the Americans will likely succumb to the European mindset that work is not a source of accomplishment or satisfaction but merely a way to bide time between vacations and weekends while relying on government for health care and retirement.

Most European young people recognize that their opportunity to pursue happiness is lost—squandered by unsustainable entitlements to which their parents and grandparents have become addicted.

Because so few of us have known personal or financial sacrifice, it’s reasonable to fear that we will not realize the urgency of our predicament until, like the French, the Brits and the Germans, we are irretrievably mired in the consequences of our fiscal irresponsibility.

Both political parties—and voters in general—share the blame for our $14 trillion in federal debt and some $100 trillion in unfunded Social Security and Medicare entitlements.

Today, however, the attitudes of the two major parties couldn’t be more different.

While Republicans, like budget committee chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, are proposing serious spending cuts and long–term entitlement reform, President Obama and the Democrats are cynically betting their political fortunes that Americans will flinch—rejecting spending cuts that hit close to home.

We’ve arrived at a crucial fork in the road, and the 2012 election will determine our fate. The Wall Street Journal recently opined, “If Obama wins a second term, his health–care (bill) won’t be repealed and will set the U.S. on Europe’s path of excessive debt and shrunken destiny, perhaps irretrievably.”

President Obama came into office talking about the necessity of reforming entitlements and “free(ing) ourselves from the burden of historic deficits.”

Today, only fools believe he meant it.

In just two years, non–defense spending has increased 24%—triple that if you include stimulus spending. Obama’s new budget triples the debt he “inherited” and ensconces even more unaffordable entitlements and higher taxes. He proposes to cut defense and homeland security by 21%, while Social Security grows by 27% and Medicare 32%.

Entitlements are killing us with complacency, jeopardizing our ability to defend our country.

To anyone who will notice, it is obvious that Obama’s stimulus—more than $1 trillion borrowed from the Chinese and billed to future generations—was never intended to bolster the economy but to permanently expand the size and scope of government.

As a candidate, Obama aspired to be a transformational president. Since election, his focus has been transforming Americans’ relationship with the federal government into a pervasive, intrusive arrangement.

Our debt is the largest since World War II, but unlike that debt, incurred to protect freedom and democracy, this debt has been amassed largely to promote dependency and, absent swift action, will only grow worse.

Prior to 2008, we had never seen a deficit greater than $500 billion. Now, we’re facing never–ending deficits $1 trillion a year and interest payments alone surpassing that mark before the end of Obama’s second term.

Ronald Reagan warned: “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”

Unlike past generations, our calling isn’t to risk our lives for our country. It’s simply to exercise self–discipline to live within our means.

Will we stop squandering our future and that of our children and grandchildren, so that they, too, can experience the freedom and opportunity that makes “the pursuit of happiness” a uniquely American dream?

We will soon know the answer.


Mark Hillman served as Senate Majority Leader and State Treasurer. He is now the Republican National Committeeman for Colorado, and a Centennial Institute Fellow. To read more or comment, go to www.MarkHillman.com.

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