Debt Deal Is Not About Who Won and Lost

The only ones who really lose are the jobless. For the rest of us, it's about tough choices, says Michael Steele.

President Obama signs the budget bill. (Pete Souza/The White House via Getty Images)
President Obama signs the budget bill. (Pete Souza/The White House via Getty Images)

I, like many of you, probably spent more time than I really wanted watching political “leaders” in Washington free-fall to a decision on our nation’s debt. As I listened to the partisan excuses, whines and outright misrepresentation of what triggers a “default,” it occurred to me that all of the drama and general posturing by both Democrats and Republicans over raising the nation’s debt ceiling could have been avoided. 

When asked on Dec. 8, 2010, whether he and the other Democrats would raise the debt ceiling, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid responded, “Let the Republicans have some buy-in on the debt.  They’re going to have a majority in the House. I don’t think it should be [done] when we have a heavily Democratic Senate, heavily Democratic House and a Democratic president.”

So as I watched members of Congress, especially Sen. Reid, looking sullen and complaining about the Tea Party caucus in the House and the “intransigence of Republicans” overall throughout the debt-ceiling talks, I thought back to that Dec. 8 interview and wondered what we would be talking about right now if the Democrat majorities in the House and Senate (under the leadership of the White House) had passed an increase in the debt ceiling in December. Perhaps we’d be talking about jobs?

It is no wonder, then, that this proud nation and its hardworking citizens found themselves on the brink of financial default and bankruptcy because some in Washington would rather play “gotcha” politics with our problems than solve them.

A Federal Fiscal Crisis

And yet we can no longer afford to deny what we already know: Federal spending has spun out of control, surging 47 percent between 2001 and 2008, with spending increasing 9.1 percent (or $249 billion) in 2008 (the last year of President George Bush’s term) and now reaching a whopping 30 percent of the gross domestic product after the first two years of the Obama administration. Annual entitlement-program spending accounts for 54 percent of the nation’s budget, and these fixed costs have soared by 6.4 percent since 2000.

Then there’s our staggering and growing debt. On Inauguration Day 2001, the national debt stood at $5.727 trillion. At the end of President Bush’s eight years and on the day President Obama took office, our nation owed $10.626 trillion (an 86 percent increase, or $4.9 trillion). Today, in just 30 short months, our nation is in the red for $14.585 trillion (a 40 percent increase, or $3.959 trillion).

It is incredible that the interest payments alone will climb to a record $800 billion a year by the end of this decade. At the same time, the rate at which individuals are able to save has decreased, while each person’s portion of our nation’s debt has increased from $20,050 (the 2001 average) to $46,678 (and yes, that means your 2-year-old owes her Uncle Sam $50,000 before she gets to preschool).