Everyone is talking about the "fiscal cliff," and no wonder, since it could mean the average American family will be paying roughly $2,200 more in taxes next year. A game of policy chicken is being played on both sides of the aisle in Washington, DC. Pragmatism and staunch ideology are at war within each party. It looks like a practical compromise will ultimately win the day, but there is something more at stake in this debate: our moral responsibility to reduce our massive national debt and leave a hopeful future for our children.
Any policy negotiation begins with weeks (or months or years) of rhetoric by ideological purists. They have the floor and keep things at a stalemate until time runs out and decisions have to be made. This is exactly what we see right now. The President is asking for twice as much money in increased taxes ($1.6 trillion over ten years) than he did in previous negotiations and making only vague references to reforming entitlements. Many Republicans, on the other hand, are basically refusing to increase taxes on anyone and demanding that we fix things by closing loopholes and reforming entitlements. We are left with a stalemate and lots of finger pointing and name calling.
This stalemate will, of course, come to an end. This will likely happen before the end of the year (the deadline), or within days or weeks after January 1st. Once increased taxes start to hit, you can bet the American public will demand a fix and quick. Congress will likely pass through a compromise no one is happy with made up of the continuation of some of the Bush tax cuts, slightly increased taxes on those making over $250,000, entitlement reform lite, and maybe even a bit of payroll tax relief.
Sadly, such a compromise will just kick the can down the road - an approach Americans have shown ourselves disturbingly eager to embrace. Rather than make personal sacrifices in order to pay our debts, live like adults, and keep future generations from abject poverty, we'd rather bury our heads in the sand and believe the lies of politicians who pretend they can magic money out of thin air.
This is not a mere question of how we'd like to proceed. We have a moral responsibility as a culture to live up to our commitments. Living well beyond its means is not good for the American family, and it is not good for the United States. This is not to say that all debt is evil - rather that our rapidly-expanding gargantuan national debt is due to our catastrophic selfishness and irresponsibility.
Lest you think I've overstating - the Congressional Budget Office estimates that if we continue the policies of years past (extending tax cuts and refusing to make spending cuts), we will run a deficit of over $1 trillion in 2013. More depressingly, the CBO projects that our federal debt will hit 90% of GDP by 2022 if we continue down this ruinous path.
The danger is clear, but what are we to do? Buckle up and make some sacrifices. Expect less from the government and pay more. We should not be opposed to taxes if (a big if, I know) they are going directly to pay down our debt. Neither should we be opposed to cuts in unsustainable government programs. Maybe if we get our spending under control we won't have to continue paying exorbitant taxes in the future.
Our fiscal situation will require gradual improvement over years or even decades. It will take time to undo all that has gone wrong. But we need to radically adjust our perspective now. Talk to your representatives. Talk to your friends, families, neighbors. We have become citizens who are too willing to tax the other guy and cut programs that don't benefit us. Politicians respond to their electorate, and in this debate the problem is clear. It's not our politicians, it's an American people who want to have our programs and our tax cuts too.
Zachary Gappa is a Consultant for the Center for a Just Society and Operations Manager at Gappa Security Solutions. Some of his other articles have been published in various places online, including Town Hall, Crosswalk, and The Christian Post.
The CJS Forum seeks to promote an open exchange of ideas about the relationship between faith, culture, law and public policy. While all the articles are original and written especially for the CJS Forum, they do not necessarily reflect the views of the Center for a Just Society.