We wish to congratulate President Obama on his reelection victory. Early results indicate that he ran a masterful campaign and outmaneuvered his opponent.
On another level, however, we are dismayed. For the past several years we have seen partisan gridlock in Washington while the government ran up trillion dollar a year deficits. At one point the federal government came perilously close to defaulting on its debt. But today we woke up to essentially the same government we had yesterday. Mr. Obama is still president. The Democrats control the Senate and the Republicans the House of Representatives. In short nothing much has changed, and if it is one thing we cannot afford it is more of the same.
The fiscal crisis is urgent and demands immediate attention. The president appointed a bipartisan commission headed by Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, and the commission did produce some recommendations. The president, however, largely chose to ignore them. Then we saw the rise of the Tea Party in 2010, and it was the intransigence of the Tea Party that resulted in the near default.
There is no underestimating the challenge involved. To close the budget gap and get us back on the path to fiscal sanity both the major entitlement programs and the tax code need to be overhauled. But each program and each tax break has its own constituency, and given the pattern of influence peddling in Washington it will be difficult to enact meaningful reform. Every special interest group will work aggressively to preserve its piece of the federal pie.
The president needs to exercise some leadership. He needs to propose a realistic budget, and he needs to use his bully pulpit to take his case directly to the American people.
The Republicans need to compromise. Granted, certain issues, such as abortion and same-sex marriage, involve fundamental moral principles and cannot be compromised. One either thinks that they are wrong or he does not. But the budget is about numbers, and numbers are negotiable. The obvious solution is to find some middle ground and split the difference.
We need to face the stark reality. There is no way that we can balance the budget and reduce the national debt without cutting defense spending and raising taxes. The numbers don't even come close to adding up otherwise. The U.S. currently spends more on defense than the next ten countries combined. And yet the Federal Government spends nearly twice as much money as it takes in in tax revenue. The government spends over $400 billion a year just in interest payments alone on the national debt. In 2010 the federal deficit was 10.7% of GDP. Greece's was 8.1% This is an insane way to run a government.
What we need are leaders who put country ahead of party, and who are willing to level with the American people about the depth of the crisis. It remains to be seen whether any of the politicians who just won reelection will rise to the challenge.