America’s Uncontrolled Debt and Spending is the Real ‘Waterloo’

Religious left icon Jim Wallis has popularized the maxim, “budgets are moral documents.” Yet the often repeated declaration is true in a way Wallis hasn’t envisioned, signaling bad news for Washington’s big spenders and those stuck footing the bill. Currently this country is facing no greater crisis than out of control spending and a mounting federal debt—a moral problem of prodigious proportions.

The Office of Management and Budget is projecting $9 trillion in deficits over the next ten years. Washington’s leaders have long paid lip service to the crisis, but their actions betray their words. The national debt is closing in on $12 trillion and unfunded liabilities like Social Security, Medicare, and other entitlement programs total $60 trillion. The looming budget and debt crisis transcend all current problems, and the crisis is visibly evident in the sliding value of the dollar. Former U.S. Comptroller General David M. Walker has warned that the country could go bankrupt in one generation. The poor and middle class will be affected most.

The government spent $451 billion of your money in 2008 alone to pay interest on the debt. The debt level as a fraction of gross domestic product is surging. Worse, there is no plan to address this crisis, and simply put, it will dramatically alter the quality of life for future citizens.

The president says the debt, with other threats to our fiscal stability, “keeps me awake at night.” Still, current lawmakers have only exacerbated an already dire situation by pushing new programs and reforms with no means to pay for them. Obama’s latest bid to “stimulate the economy”—by sending checks to 50 million Social Security recipients for no compelling reason—is more of the same. Attempts to hold the line on spending and restore fiscal discipline like a Balanced Budget Amendment, PAYGO (pay-as-you-go), or the line-item veto have all failed, either in Congress or the courts.

In his educational tours, former Comptroller General Walker often talks about a “leadership deficit,” rather than the spending deficit. He echoes the sentiment once expressed by the late Admiral James B. Stockdale who said: “Those who study the rise and fall of civilizations learn that no shortcoming has been surely fatal to republics as a dearth of public virtue, the unwillingness of those who govern to place the value of their society above personal interest.” Stockdale, known to many as Ross Perot’s running mate, was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his leadership under difficult circumstances as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. His story provides a stark contrast with the “me first” leadership style in Washington.

The moral vacuum that seems to provide nothing but rhetoric on this issue is frightening. Even some Washington-based think tanks fall victim by ranking the importance of the debt issue differently depending on which party holds power. This year outraged citizens staged tea party rallies to rail against excessive spending, deficits, and the debt. The health care debate helped fuel the outrage. Whether you support the tea party movement or not, it is becoming increasingly evident that citizens may be the last hope for curtailing massive deficit spending.

“If we’re able to stop Obama on this it will be his Waterloo. It will break him,” Senator Jim DeMint said of President Obama’s health care plan. The clever quote provides an illustration of the partisan stakes in Washington now, where most of the attention of lawmakers is focused. But if our legislators keep sidestepping the spending and debt crisis, it could mean America’s Waterloo.

One thing is certain, continuing the status quo on spending and debt will spell defeat for liberty in America and massive tax increases for everyone. We must demand more from our government. It will certainly be demanding more from all of us in the years to come.

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  • Here’s an idea I had that is sure to be controversial. How about we citizens take responsibility for the debt, and voluntarily start working a 44-hour week, with the extra hours going to close the deficit and eventually pay down the debt? We wouldn’t stop until the debt was $0. It could take a generation or more but as I have learned in my own life, the only way to generate money is to work for it. Accounting tricks, borrowing, and other shady tactics that our government employs only make matters worse. Part of the package, of course, would be us firing every single Congressman and the President, imposing strict term limits, and going back to the “citizen-legislator” model of past years, when our lawmakers were small business owners, farmers, and other ordinary people. It would all be very hard, but if we have the will, I think it could work.

  • anitamarie

    Prairie Hawk: I hope you were joking about a 44 hour work week. Most people already work more than that without overtime. Also, what makes you think these people in Washington would stop incurring debt? Even if you did fire them all, it would just start all over again with the next batch. Americans themselves don’t even live within their means for the most part, why would the government?

  • However it gets structured, the point is that the only way we’re going to close the deficit and repay the national debt is by generating more wealth. Wealth in our world comes out of the ground, in the form of oil, trees, gold, and such things. Then people earn money by reshaping these natural resources into things that people can use, and others earn money by selling these things. But the money comes out of the ground, and if you need more money to pay your bills, you have to earn more by extracting more, manufacturing more, and selling more. My understanding of economics is not perfect but I think I’ve captured the essence of what needs to be done.

    There is precedent. Poor, developing countries in places like Africa have made it a matter of national pride to pay down the debt they owe to creditor nations like ourselves. I remember reading about one such country (I think it was Liberia) where paying extra money to the government for debt reduction was a way of life.

    Like I said, firing Washington is an important part of the solution. Installing citizen-legislators who come from ordinary walks of life (not just attorneys), who know what it is to earn a paycheck from their labor, and who can govern with common sense, is hugely important.

    Do I think any of this will really happen? No. I actually think we’re sunk. If we as a nation are unwilling (and we are unwilling) to take matters into our own hands to secure the future for our children and grandchildren, the way our Founding Fathers did, then I don’t believe there’s anything left to save. All we can do now is watch the final act slowly play itself out on the national stage, and keep praying because we need a Savior. Fortunately for all of us, we have one.

  • The problem is the fungibility of money. If you pay down the principal of the federal government, an immoral Congress will divert the funds they had budgeted for that to other things.