Despite evidence that has been mounting for years, there are still deniers out there.
It’s easy to pretend the problem doesn’t exist, or that man’s behavior isn’t contributing to it. The experts’ research can be twisted to say anything they want, critics say. Past predictions of catastrophe still haven’t come true, and besides, the data have been going the other direction the past few years.
But that’s a blip in time, and the numbers will shoot up again down the road without action. The changes build up slowly, half a degree at a time. We’re already seeing tell-tale signs, and while the ultimate impact isn’t known specifically, experts say it could be life-altering in coming decades if we don’t modify our behavior.
Climate change? No, we’re talking, of course, about America’s debt. But in a way, climate change is what we need – political climate change.
Wall Street and the nation exhaled when Congress and President Obama struck a deal to raise the debt ceiling and restart government. A failure to do so would have tanked the markets and could have sent the economy into recession.
But a crisis is a terrible thing to waste, economist Paul Romer said, and this one was completely wasted. While the debt ceiling should not be held hostage to dealmaking, the crafting of the new year’s budget is the time for give and take. It didn’t happen. Changes in tax policy that were part of the deal? None. Reductions in spending? Fixing the sequester? Reforms to entitlements? Nope; not yet; and you have to be kidding.
In fact, there was virtually no substantive policy in the agreement. Congress simply funded the government for three more months and raised the debt ceiling for four more months.
The deal also creates a committee charged with building a longer-term, bipartisan budget plan by Dec. 13. They might as well have vowed to put a man on Jupiter by Dec. 31.
Annual deficits have been dropping since 2010. Yet they are still larger than average relative to the economy, and America’s total debt, approaching $17 trillion, is the largest in relation to GDP in more than 60 years. About 10,000 Baby Boomers turn 65 every day, and the pressure on Social Security and Medicare is unsustainable.
The Tea Party’s call for immediate and draconian spending cuts is wrong-headed and its political approach ineffective. Still, Paul Krugman notwithstanding, one can worry about the country’s unsustainable debt without being an austerity freak.
What’s needed – still – is a long-term solution that ensures the health of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid for generations by combining tinkers to those programs with the elimination of many tax loopholes and the passage of other changes to the revenue code.
Will it ever happen? It’s hard to be optimistic right now.
But if there was any winner in the debt ceiling showdown, it might have been moderates. The Tea Party’s antics split it even further from the mainstream Republican Party. Scores of Republicans joined Democrats in passing the final deal. And polls show that most Americans, if not most primary voters, are tired of the extremists. Maybe those realities provide motivation for politicians, and a seed of hope for the rest of us.
The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.
Have a news tip? You can send it to a local news editor; email email@example.com to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Charlotte Observer.Read moreRead less