By: Eric Bruns
The United States national debt surpassed $21 trillion on March 15th, 2018. This is yet another milestone in the saga of ever increasing debt in America and, as usual, there was very little mention of this fact. Outside of the fact that we’re all Americans that care deeply about our country, why does the ever increasing national debt and the current lack of any serious plan to address it matter to us as Democrats? Because it’s a serious threat. However, combating the national debt isn’t just a serious issue that requires a serious solution, it presents an opportunity to shift the political landscape for foreseeable future and steal a march on Republicans.
The national debt is the single largest long-term threat to our nation’s social safety net. The programs that comprise the social safety net are among the greatest resources our country has for protecting those less fortunate. They provide much needed relief for those that have fallen on hard times and need a hand up. As Democrats, we constantly see it as our duty to protect those programs. While we have fought hard to protect these programs from being dismembered legislatively, we’ve done little to ensure their long-term viability for the coming generations.
For the FY 2019 federal budget, the federal government will spend $363 billion on interest payments toward the debt. By 2028, the interest payments alone are projected to increase to $761 billion per year. That is an absolutely mind boggling amount to be spending on interest payments in a given year. Think of what we could do with that amount of money for those that could most use the assistance. In essence, as the amount of money we pay towards interest on the debt increases, the less money will be left to fund these program. If we continue down the path of ignoring this problem until we can’t, we will be forced into a solution that will inflict maximum damage on the largest amount of people. However, if we begin to seriously work on the issue now, we can come up with a solution that avoids hurting those that can afford it the least.
Deficit spending and the national debt is an issue Republicans have consistently used to lambast Democrats as “tax and spend liberals.” However, the passage of the Republican tax cuts last year effectively showed that when it comes time to lead, Republicans lacked the intestinal fortitude to tackle an issue they claim is one of their most important. In reality, they made it worse and ended up increasing the projected national debt by $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years. This has created an opportunity for Democrats to not just protect the long term viability of the social safety net, but snatch this issue away from Republicans and bludgeon them with the stick of hypocrisy.
Like all serious issues we care about, time is the most precious resource we possess. Just like climate change, the longer we wait to devise and implement a serious plan to tackle our ballooning national debt, the greater the damage will be when we finally exhaust our ability to kick the can down the road. If Democrats are able to take up this problem and work toward a solution, we stand a very good chance of gaining maintaining our ability to provide much needed support to those that need it the most. Otherwise, the support programs we provide to people today will be on the backs of our children and grandchildren.