The Shadow of Debt Looms Large at the RNC. Will Ryan Speak to It Tonight?

4 years ago

There are lots of signs and banners and party flair at the Republican National Convention in Tampa this week. But inside the Forum, there are two signs that loom largest -- and these signs are not the supportive, rah-rah homemade-poster kind.

The first huge electronic sign is a ticking national debt clock, and the second shows the amount of debt that is accumulating since the gavel rang in the start of the convention on Monday afternoon.

Clock counting the national debt incurring during the Republican National Convention, August 28.(Image: © Harry E. Walker/Mct/MCT/

No, these aren't the typical upbeat poster boards with Romney-Ryan painted on in red, white and blue. These signs give everyone cause for concern. And that's their point.

A recent poll from Public Notice -- an independent non-profit that explains economic policy -- shows that the issue ranked right behind this election’s number-one concern of jobs and the economy, is government spending and our national debt.

For too long, proposed solutions about spending and reforms to the major drivers of our debt – entitlements like Medicare and Medicaid – have been politically DOA. But this year, our poll says otherwise. For the first time in recent memory, the American people are watching the debt clock tick up toward $16 trillion, and they're scared. Why? Because we're responsible for that debt -- and we're going to have to pay it back. How our government would respond if any country came calling for their loan is unknown by even the country’s smartest and brightest economic experts. But the perils of being leveraged are easy to understand: just look at the housing market and how it imploded when the debt stacks got too high and too risky.

The federal government’s overspending creates real costs for the American people. The debt will one day come due, and the tab is staggering. The official national debt is $15.97 trillion, which means each citizen’s personal share is more than $50,800.

There are real personal consequences we face when it comes to our national debt: higher taxes and inflation, as well as a negative effect on our already lackluster economy, weighing it down with both uncertainty and fear. So what will that look like?

Families struggling to make ends meet will see taxes climb to pay for the interest on their $139,800 household share. Continued government borrowing makes money more scarce, and can therefore drive up the costs of private borrowing, making it harder for entrepreneurs to start a business, companies to expand, and private citizens to get a loan to buy a house. Even those favoring a more activist government know the debt will hamstring Washington, making it more difficult to invest in future, unforeseen priorities.

And if we don’t deal with this now – if Washington continues to abdicate its responsibility to put responsible decisions to cut spending off for another day, another trillion deeper in debt - our children and grandchildren will be left to foot the bill. That means higher taxes on them, higher interest rates, a diminished American economy, and fewer opportunities.

Yet, if you can believe it, the fiscal situation is really much worse than the official deficit numbers indicate. The additional burden that’s not rolled up in the official debt numbers come from Social Security and Medicare: These programs have promised to pay out $38.6 trillion more in benefits than they expect to receive in taxes. Policymakers facing these fiscal obligations will have to make tough choices that will affect many taxpayers, not just the wealthy.

It won’t be easy to reduce the debt, but the solutions are simple. Lawmakers must reduce government spending and enact policies that will truly encourage economic growth. After all, why would we give Washington another dollar until it can show us it can spend them wisely? It’s like a teen with a bad shopping habit. A parent wouldn’t support the habit by continuing to give the teen more money, so why would we as Americans willingly give our government more money when history showsit will just squander it?

I’ve been critical of the president and also critical of both parties in Congress for their lack of leadership on the national debt and their addiction to deficit spending (estimated this year at $1.1 trillion, according to the Congressional Budget Office). That’s because I know that debt and runaway spending are hampering economic growth and destroying our nation’s fiscal future.

The president described the first ten years of 2000 as a decade of “profligacy,” blaming it as part of the reason for our current fiscal turmoil. That was back when every man, woman and child only owed $43,925 to pay their share of the debt -- $6,900 less than it is today.

But if he or Mitt Romney and Congress don’t heed voters’ call for restraint, that era will seem frugal compared to the economic blizzard before us. It’s time for lawmakers to do something about it.

Undoubtedly, one message we will hear frequently in Tampa is that we must restrain spending to keep from bankrupting America. However, for the past decade very few Republicans have even taken a strong position on fiscal issues -- and we've yet to hear any specific plans from the GOP. But the two Republicans who have taken a stand, are, fittingly, the center of much attention here: Libertarian Presidential candidate and Vice-Presidential candidate and U.S. Congressman Paul Ryan, who will have the chance to make some bold statements tonight about government spending. But will he -- and the GOP -- take the opportunity?

Let’s hope those two clocks aren’t viewed as just another piece of convention signage. Let’s hope that the politicians here see them as the warning sign they actually are.

Gretchen Hamel is the executive director and founder of

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