It's party time for the parties! Republicans wrapped up their nominating convention in Tampa last week and Democrats kick theirs off in Charlotte today. Drinks will flow, balloons will drop, and everyone will walk away charged up for the final two months of the campaign.
But with each easy applause line, each toast to success on Election Day, and each highly produced campaign video, the national debt continues to increase. Not only is it growing, but it is growing at a faster rate than ever. Americans see the juxtaposition of these two realities and wonder why their representatives have so much to celebrate.
The national debt just eclipsed $16 trillion, according to a press reports on a statement released by the U.S. Treasury -- which caused $16Trillion to trend on Twitter. Our debt is larger than the entire U.S. Gross Domestic Product; that is every good and service produced in the U.S. each year. So yes, our debt is big. But what’s even scarier than the size of the debt is what it means relative to our economy, or the annual gross domestic product.
Only a few advanced countries have seen their debt exceed their annual GDP. Of them, all have seen their economies stagnate or decline. Some of these countries -- Greece, Portugal, and Ireland -- are hardly the envy of the developed world, and certainly not the models the U.S. should follow.
The Republican National Convention included a debt clock, a heartening step to ensure a focus on the problem -- but little more than a gimmick without a plan of action to fix it. And, while it is true that the debt has grown by $5 trillion in President Obama’s first term, his Republican predecessor, George W. Bush, was a notoriously big spender, too; he racked up nearly $5 trillion in two terms, with Republican Congresses acting as willful accomplices. So for now, the Republican Party’s recent insistence upon fiscal responsibility is encouraging, but until we see concrete steps to reduce spending, it amounts to nothing more than election-year rhetoric -- rhetoric we’ve heard too many times before.
There have been no reports that Democrats plan to incorporate a debt clock into their convention; it is unclear how much, if it all they intend to address it during the official program. Unfortunately, the official Democratic platform only gives fleeting mention to debt and deficit, in my opinion. Examples such as Solyndra and the GSA scandal highlight a lack of oversight and a general disregard for how taxpayer money is spent in the Obama Administration. This week, my organization, Public Notice, will track exactly how often Democrats reference the debt or deficit.
While the debt and government spending may not be top concerns for our members of Congress, it’s at the top of the minds of the families and small businesses they represent. According to a recent poll commissioned by my organization, the debt and government spending rank second among the top concerns for likely voters, right behind the economy and jobs. Additionally, a majority of voters see a direct connection between the debt and the economy (67 percent) and their own family (53 percent).
The well-worn political strategy of promising the world for votes is going the way of the wishbone offense. Voters are no longer interested in what you can give them. They are worried about how their money is being spent and why Washington wants more of it when so much goes to waste. Politicians and their party committees have crafted carefully worded platforms designed to appeal to certain groups, but our polling shows that voters will reward a serious message of fiscal responsibility.
Washington faces the fiscal cliff at the end of the year, a combination of tax hikes and spending cuts considered so unpleasant that they would force action on a long-term strategy for deficit reduction. Now here we are with just a few legislating weeks left in the year and there is no plan or even a plan to work on a plan. Instead, politicians are on the campaign trail, raising money and celebrating with like-minded partisans. As the saying goes, the first step in recovery is to admit you have a problem. Washington’s inaction indicates a failure to admit it has problem.
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