One Nation Under Debt

by Gerri Willis

Our debt crisis reminds me of this moment from Gulliver’s Travels:

Gulliver is us – literally hamstrung by debt carried away by our own spending!

Think about it. Our country has the biggest economy on the planet. We're a giant, but we're held down by trillions of tiny obligations.

The problem with this is that it limits what we can do.

It means some things are just off the table.

What if, for example, Hurricane Katrina happened right now? That’s a $135 billion tab for clean up and rebuilding.

Or what if the devastating Japanese earthquake and tsunami occurred in California instead of Japan?

That was over $300 billion in damages.

And it's not just natural disasters that sport these big tabs for government.

What about war?

We paid $823 billion for the Iraq war in actual expenditures between 2001 and 2012.

The Afghanistan war - $557 billion during the same period, and oh, remember we fought these at the same time!

Look, I’m not saying we should create a budget for the next war. But we have to be flexible enough financially to underwrite one.

What if Iran bombs us tomorrow?

It's the same reason you get insurance - just in case something happens.

Then there are the projects you do because you want to - the ones that make your heart soar.

Remember this?

John F. Kennedy on May 25, 1961: “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind or more important to the long-range exploration of space. And none will be so difficult, or expensive to accomplish.”

Just eight years later, man walked on the moon.

President Kennedy set that goal, and we achieved it.

And it was expensive.

The Apollo program that took us to the moon cost over $100 billion in today's dollars.

But last July we saw the space shuttle blast off for the last time.

NASA's been grounded. Today the shuttles are sitting in museums because the President doesn't believe we can afford to dream.

It's appalling.

We need to constrain spending on the things we aren't so keen on bankrolling - Solyndra, the GSA's Vegas vacation.

So we can pay for the things we truly need and want.

Now that the fight over the debt limit is heating up again, Speaker of the House John Boehner gave us this perspective today:

“We shouldn't dread the debt limit. We should welcome it. It's an action-forcing event in a town that has become infamous for inaction.”

This debt fight has been playing out for a year. All we've gotten is gridlock, and short-term solutions.

It's time for Washington to realize now is the time for action.

Go big, and go bold.