At heart, each of us believes one, and only one, of the following:
- The only way to reduce the national debt is to cut spending. We need to identify where the money is being wasted in Washington and to stop wasting it! Saying there isn't enough money for what government should be doing is simply delusional and lets government expand without limit.
- The national debt cannot be paid off without increasing revenues, i.e., raising somebody's taxes. Spending cuts are fine, but they cannot get us all the way there. We have been unwilling to acknowledge that we want more from government than we are willing to pay for, but we can be blind no longer to this reality.
What we got from Washington this week is a new splint on a broken leg that isn't healing.
We've been limping along on this leg for ages because we had a pretty good painkiller in economic growth. But we've never gotten over the nearly century-long dispute over what government should and shouldn't do. Now that spiralling costs (especially of medical care), no or negative economic growth, and fiscal irresponsibility by nearly every president and Congress during the twentieth century (and indefensible fiscal mismanagement on the part of George W. Bush) have left us with an overhanging debt that scares the bejeezus out of us, the debate over government's role is front and center once again.
My feeling is that small-government advocates are loud and have an easily-understood argument, but they bring about as much subtlety and expertise to the national debt as surgeons of the eighteenth century brought to battle wounds. They both have the urge to cut things off because that's the most straightforward approach.
I don't want to go back to the eighteenth century. Small-government advocates by and large refuse to accept the complexity of the twenty-first.
These bones aren't knitting.