|Fiscal Responsibility, NOT Deficit Reduction
You're absolutely right about this, Mike:
I believe to my core that when faced with an intractable political problem, the only way to deal with it is to face it head on rather than ignore it or stay on the defensive about it.
But the intractable political problem is not the federal debt. It's the fiscal irresponsibility of the Republicans, as illustrated in three related charts I've presented in recent diaries, showing who's been responsible for lowering the debt-to-GDP ratio, and who's been responsible for raising it.
First of all, it's important to realize that debt by itself is not problematic for sovereign governments, only an excessive debt-to-GDP ratio is. And what's "excessive" is a relative term, defined in large part by perceived long-term ability to manage the ratio. Thus, the first chart, simply showing the magnitude of the debt-to-GDP ratio, begins with very high levels due to WWII, but no one then thought of the debt as a problem--and for good reason, as we made massive pay-downs on the debt during Truman's presidency. It was only after Ronald Reagan fronted for the rise of narratives about the dangers of the debt that it actually became a problem:
The second chart shows the change in debt-to-GDP ratio, so we can see who was making progress in bringing it down vs. who was making the problem worse:
And the third chart rearranges the second chart from being ordered historically to being order in terms of the magnitude of debt-to-GDP reduction or increase (plus changing from line chart to bar chart):
As can be seen from these charts, Clinton basically had handled the debt problem--at lest in the medium run. Bush came along and utterly destroyed all the progress Clinton had made. The long-run problem is something you don't seem to fully grasp--it's the rising medical costs underlying the explosion of Medicare and Medicaid decades in the future, not in the next ten years. The problems aren't internal to these programs--they are endemic in the wastefulness of our medical system, not the easy stuff, the utterly useless insurance companies, but the hard stuff due to a systematically distorted incentive structure, resulting in the non-insurance part of this anomaly--chart from an early 2009 diary rerun a month ago as a "Golden Oldie" ("Obama's "mandate" to slash Medicare, Medicaid & Social Security"):
Getting rid of the insurance sector--not a public option, but full-scale single-payer--would save about $1,500 per capita, meaning we would no longer be dramatically more expensive than everyone else. But where we need to be is another $1,000 cheaper when we come to have an elder population mix comparable to Germany, Italy and Japan. That's the real challenge of health care reform so far as debt reduction is concerned. And we're only going to get there if we challenge the entire way that this debate is structured and framed right now, including the framing of this in terms of debt itself being the problem.
The basic problem is that conservatives want to destroy the federal government, and if that destroys everything else in America, that's just fine with them. If you don't talk about how fiscally irresponsible the Republicans are, and discredit them totally, you will never solve the problem we face, except on their terms... in which case, the "solution" is even worse than the problem.