"Everybody in Vanity Fair must have remarked how well those live who are comfortably and thoroughly in debt; how they deny themselves nothing; how jolly and easy they are in their minds." -- William Makepeace Thackeray
My Apple computer has a handy icon called "Time Machine." By clicking it, I can find data that might have been misplaced, or return the computer to a specific configuration dating back to a specific date and time.
That serves as a good metaphor when discussing the initial report by the Debt Commission. Though Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, co-chairs of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, start at the wrong end. They are recommending cuts in some government spending and advocating for higher taxes to pay for the rest. What is needed, instead, is a "history commission" to remind those who have forgotten -- or never learned -- the purpose of government and the role and responsibility of the individual.
Like the Democrats' health care "reform" measure, the Debt Commission's initial recommendations, which will be followed by the full report Dec. 1 contains some good ideas, but the overall template remains flawed because it fails to address the main problem, which is government that encroaches on individual liberty, personal responsibility and living within one's means.
Federal spending now costs nearly $30,000 per household, according to Brian Riedl of The Heritage Foundation (www.heritage.org). That's because, he writes, just "in the past three years, the budget has leapt by $727 billion and now stands at $3.5 trillion." And that's without the cost of Obamacare and the burden to Social Security and Medicare retiring baby boomers will add.
The Debt Commission doesn't touch Obamacare, which, says Heritage analyst Alison Acosta Fraser, will add "at least $2.5 trillion over its first real decade of implementation, when both revenue and benefit payouts are included."
The Debt Commission summary assumes a role for government the Founders never intended it to have. Where is the reminder of Thomas Paine's dictum, "The government is best which governs least," or this from Thomas Jefferson: "...the principle of spending money to be paid by posterity, under the name of funding, is but swindling futurity on a large scale." Jefferson also said the "fore horse" of a society's decline is public debt: "Taxation follows that, and in its train wretchedness and oppression."
Are we to pay attention and learn from the likes of Paine and Jefferson only when their thoughts affirm what we wish to do in modern times, or were these men philosophers whose ideas are sound for all time?
There is nothing in this preliminary report about the joy of liberty and the responsibility of individuals to first care for themselves, turning to government when all else has failed rather than at the start, which can only lead to dependency and subsidized failure.
Every government agency and program should be periodically re-authorized. All spending should be justified before congressional committees responsible for oversight and reduced, or ended, if it fails to fulfill its purpose. The federal workforce must be reduced as the British coalition government has proposed doing in the UK. Individuals who make wise decisions, care for themselves and refuse Social Security and Medicare (which should be means-tested) ought to receive tax breaks. The government beast must be put on a diet.
Rep. Tom Cole, Oklahoma Republican, is on to something with a bill he has introduced (H.R. 4946). He wants to "put teeth back in the 10th Amendment." Cole argues "So much of the government overreach we've seen the past few years could be prevented just by enforcing the constitutional protections we already have." His bill -- the 10th Amendment Regulatory Reform Act -- would give "special standing to certain, specific state executive and legislative leaders that would allow them to challenge in federal court regulations issued by federal administrative agencies attempting to implement new federal laws or presidential executive orders."
That's a start, but it should be accompanied by history's lessons, which have much to teach us about debt. Playwright Henrik Ibsen said: "There can be no freedom or beauty about a home life that depends on borrowing and debt." That also applies to countries.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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