The U.S. Congress approved spending more this fiscal year than the government will receive in tax revenue. Congress has done the same thing 38 of the past 42 years. Consequently, we have a large national debt. The challenge to bring the annual deficit under control will become more intense as our aging population retires and a higher percentage of us become eligible for Social Security and Medicare. Fixing the problem requires raising taxes or reducing government expenditures or both. Either procedure needs to be done fairly — in an equitable manner.
Last year, in an effort to reduce government expenditures, Congress passed legislation that reduced the retirement benefits of military veterans. That had two problems. It singled out a particular group to bear the burden instead of applying the burden, equitably, to everyone. It was also retroactive; it took a benefit that had been promised and had already been earned. If military pensions are more generous than they should be, the proper thing to do is adjust those benefits for people who will begin their careers in the future so that they will know in advance what their retirement will be. To apply a cut in retirement benefits, retroactively, destroys trust in government. We need to be able to trust our government. Congress has recently corrected the mistake; they restored the benefits to retired military personnel.
The same type of issue will surface again. Who will pay additional taxes? Who will have their benefits reduced? The elected members of congress form the institution constitutionally required to address the issue. Congress has demonstrated that it can correct mistakes. For that, we should be very grateful.
When World War Two struck the United States, we had to borrow a large sum of money. We could not have succeeded without those borrowed funds. But the debt accumulated by the more recent 38 years of budget deficits, cited above, was not for emergencies. Congress was just dodging the bullet — a different kind of bullet. Our national debt now totals about 17 trillion dollars. If you were to spend a million dollars a day, how long would it take to burn through a trillion dollars? The answer: slightly more than 2737 years.
What would we do if a new emergency arose while we are holding the current national debt and spending more than we collect in revenue every year?
We spent the past decade meddling in the Middle East with nothing to show for the sacrifice and expenditure. It is time to change priorities.
Correcting our funding mistake will not be an easy task for the people we elect to serve in the United States Congress. The decisions will be wrenching, and they will require moral courage. The ball is in our court. It is our responsibility to elect the people who will do the job and do it equitably.
Jack Stevenson is retired and served two years in Vietnam as an infantry officer, retired from military service and worked three years as a U.S. Civil Service employee. He also worked in Egypt as an employee of the former Radio Corporation of America (RCA).