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The Road to Serfdom: More Debt, Less Leadership

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Looking for a clear, concise, simple explanation of why it's important -- indeed, vital -- to hold the line against raising the federal debt limit unless federal spending is cut at least as much? Then check this out:

"The fact that we are here today to debate raising America's debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the U.S. government can't pay its own bills. It is a sign that we now depend on ongoing financial assistance from foreign countries to finance our government's reckless fiscal policies. ... Increasing America's debt weakens us domestically and internationally. Leadership means that 'the buck stops here.' Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better."

No, that isn't John Boehner, the Republican speaker of the House talking -- though it could be.

And, no, it isn't a budget hawk like Michele Bachmann, the congresswoman from Minnesota who's been making quite a splash in the run-up to the presidential primary in Iowa. Though it easily could be.

It's another of the country's leading politicians, though you'd be forgiven for not guessing which one.

It's Barack Obama. But he was speaking in March of 2006. Back then he was still talking sense.

But things have changed since then, or at least Barack Obama has. He's no longer a senator criticizing a Republican president and that president's overspending. Now he's president, and his overspending has far outdistanced that of George W. Bush's administration.

Those who grow accustomed to living beyond their means will soon enough find their means shrinking as their debt expands. Just as Sen. Obama was warning only five years ago. Five years in which the national debt has increased by more than half, going from some $9 trillion in 2006 to more than $14 trillion today.

But now he's eager to raise the debt limit still again. He brings to mind the teenager who, when told he's outspending his allowance, explains that he's not spending too much, it's just that his allowance is too small.

Since 2006, Barack Obama has discovered the joys of spending other people's money. How balance the budget? Just raise taxes on "the rich." Problem solved.

Not quite. One catch to that quick fix is that the rich, or at least their tax attorneys and tax accountants, their trust officers and estate planners, are sure to find still more ways to put their money into tax shelters -- rather than invest their capital in ventures that would produce a lot more jobs for the rest of us. And get this stalled economy rolling again.

Here's another problem with the Obama Panacea: At last report, the richest 5 percent of American earners were already paying almost 60 percent of federal income taxes, and the top 10 percent were paying 70 percent. How much more can government take without reducing the private sector, the real revenue-generator and jobs-producer of the American economy, to insignificance?

To use a metaphor as old as Aesop, how long can taxes on the largest incomes be raised without killing the goose that lays the golden eggs? How long can the highest earners be expected to bear so great a proportion of the tax burden -- and even more of it if this president has his way?

To quote Margaret Thatcher, the big problem with the tax-and-spend crowd is "they always run out of other people's money."

After a while, there just aren't enough rich folks to soak. While the high earners are paying a larger and larger percentage of income taxes, the bottom half of American taxpayers -- 50 percent -- pay only 2.7 percent of all income taxes collected.

There's something seriously askew with this picture. It indicates an imbalance that cannot be sustained indefinitely. Which is why the national debt has grown to an alarming level, and the economy is groaning under the burden of so much debt -- of just paying the interest on so much debt.

There will always be those politicians who think they've found a painless way to keep spending. Unfortunately, the pain is already being felt as prices go up and employment down.

But what, Barack Obama worry? He's got an election to win. And he knows that, responsible as cutting expenses and sharing the tax burden more equally might be, swallowing hard and exercising that kind of leadership will never be as popular as spending other people's money.

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