A reporter once asked Thomas Edison how it felt to fail thousands of times while attempting to create a working incandescent light bulb. Edison replied that he hadn’t failed -- he’d simply found thousands of ways that didn’t work.
That’s worth keeping in mind as we assess the worth of President Obama’s debt reduction commission. Eleven of its 18 members voted in favor of the commission’s final report. That means it didn’t attract enough support to prompt action in Congress. Combine that vote tally with the fact that the report itself has won mixed reviews from both sides of the political aisle, and it may be tempting to dismiss the commission’s work altogether.
But we shouldn’t. Like Edison, we don’t have a failure on our hands -- at least, not if we’re willing to learn from this experience.
And learn from it we must. The debt problem the commission was charged with fixing is real. And it’s getting worse. The national debt is set to double over the next decade, due to out-of-control spending in Washington. The inevitable result, The Heritage Foundation’s Brian Riedl assures us, is higher interest rates, slower economic growth, and rising tax rates.
According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), President Obama’s proposed budget for 2011 will add $10 trillion in debt over the next decade. By 2020, the federal government will owe $20 trillion, or $170,000 per American household. And that’s not even counting underfunded obligations from Medicare and Social Security.
Plain and simple, we’re on an unsustainable path. The sooner we take a sharp and sensible detour, the better.
And that’s where the debt commission’s work comes in handy: Congress should learn from what it did wrong.
Its primary mistake: a tax-heavy approach. When you examine the federal budget closely, it’s blindingly obvious that revenue isn’t the problem. That cannot be over-emphasized. We’re not taking in too little in revenue. We’re spending too much -- way, way too much. And we should tailor our solutions accordingly, i.e., with spending cuts.
How, to take one glaring example, could the debt commission ignore the trillions of dollars in new spending that will occur as a result of the president’s health care plan? We need to repeal Obamacare, not allow it to take effect over the next few years and move our nation that much closer to insolvency.
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