Debt Commission report flawed

November 17, 2010


“Everybody in Vanity Fair must have remarked how well those live who are comfortably and thoroughly in debt; how they deny themselves nothing; how jolly and easy they are in their minds.” — William Makepeace Thackeray

My Apple computer has a handy icon called “Time Machine.” By clicking it, I can find data that might have been misplaced, or return the computer to a specific configuration dating back to a specific date and time.

That serves as a good metaphor when discussing the initial report by the Debt Commission. Though Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, co-chairs of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, start at the wrong end. They are recommending cuts in some government spending and advocating for higher taxes to pay for the rest. What is needed, instead, is a “history commission” to remind those who have forgotten — or never learned — the purpose of government and the role and responsibility of the individual.

Like the Democrats’ health care “reform” measure, the Debt Commission’s initial recommendations, which will be followed by the full report Dec. 1 contains some good ideas, but the overall template remains flawed because it fails to address the main problem, which is government that encroaches on individual liberty, personal responsibility and living within one’s means.

Federal spending now costs nearly $30,000 per household, according to Brian Riedl of The Heritage Foundation (www.heritage.org). That’s because, he writes, just “in the past three years, the budget has leapt by $727 billion and now stands at $3.5 trillion.” And that’s without the cost of Obamacare and the burden to Social Security and Medicare retiring baby boomers will add.

The Debt Commission doesn’t touch Obamacare, which, says Heritage analyst Alison Acosta Fraser, will add “at least $2.5 trillion over its first real decade of implementation, when both revenue and benefit payouts are included.”

The Debt Commission summary assumes a role for government the Founders never intended. Where is the reminder of Thomas Paine’s dictum, “The government is best which governs least,” or this from Thomas Jefferson: “...the principle of spending money to be paid by posterity, under the name of funding, is but swindling futurity on a large scale.”

There is nothing in this preliminary report about the joy of liberty and the responsibility of individuals to first care for themselves, turning to government when all else has failed rather than at the start, which can only lead to dependency and subsidized failure.

Every government agency and program should be periodically re-authorized. All spending should be justified before congressional committees responsible for oversight and reduced, or ended, if it fails to fulfill its purpose. The federal workforce must be reduced as the British coalition government has proposed doing in the UK. Individuals who make wise decisions, care for themselves and refuse Social Security and Medicare (which should be means-tested) ought to receive tax breaks. The government beast must be put on a diet.

Rep. Tom Cole, Oklahoma Republican, is on to something with a bill he has introduced (H.R. 4946). He wants to “put teeth back in the 10th Amendment.” Cole argues “So much of the government overreach we’ve seen the past few years could be prevented just by enforcing the constitutional protections we already have.” His bill — the 10th Amendment Regulatory Reform Act — would give “special standing to certain, specific state executive and legislative leaders that would allow them to challenge in federal court regulations issued by federal administrative agencies attempting to implement new federal laws or presidential executive orders.”

That’s a start, but it should be accompanied by history’s lessons, which have much to teach us about debt. Playwright Henrik Ibsen said: “There can be no freedom or beauty about a home life that depends on borrowing and debt.” That also applies to countries.

— Cal Thomas is a columnist for Tribune Media Services. tmseditors@tribune.com


usnsnp 7 years, 5 months ago

I was not around and neither was Cal when the founding fathers wrote the Constitution so we do not know what they wanted the role of the government. All people do now is read into the words of the Constitution is what they want to see. Reduce the Federal work force is a good idea, but start with the Defense Dept. especially all the outside contractors like the newly renamed Black Rock Corp. Looking at all the things that the commission wants to cut I do not see any sacrifice Cal is going to have to make. I see things like military health care, VA funding, Social Security (Cal how about you getting out there and do some job that requires physical energy like plumbing, brick laying etc) of course you cant you are too old, but you want the retirement age for Social Security to be raised to 70, of course that is only for people that have not been lucky enough to get to a position that you are at. People like you are so full of themselves, and that includes both the left and right.

cato_the_elder 7 years, 5 months ago

Usnsnp, if you are interested in how the Founders viewed the role of government, read The Federalist Papers. Then read the Constitution and observe how it is not a document setting forth what government can do for individual citizens, but is instead a document specifically limiting the power of government over individual citizens.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 5 months ago

A large percentage of the founding fathers, primarily those from the South, were racist, sexist, aristocratic slaveowners. Most of those from the North were also aristocrats, and collectively their primary goal was to preserve and expand their lives of privilege, which they came to think could be better accomplished by a political split from England. They looked at the vast majority not in their class as a threat to those lives of privilege, and much of what went into the constitution was designed to protect them and theirs, and not to lift up hoi polloi, for whom they had little respect.

So even though there are many laudable features of that constitution, attempting to divine the original intent of the elitist framers is of very little value in deciding what the constitution means in modern times.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 5 months ago

If you are unaware of it, you really know nothing about the founding of this country, or the belief systems that predominated at the time.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 5 months ago

The credible sources are readily available to those who want to find them. But those who want to cling to their cherished mythologies are not generally so inclined.

Peacemaker452 7 years, 5 months ago

The Constitution means the exact same thing today as when it was written. Despite what all 3 branches of the federal government would like to think, you cannot add words or change the meaning of the document for your convenience. A very easy to understand method of amendment was built in to allow for needed changes. Bozo, please point out what parts of the Constitution give special privilege to the “racist, sexist, aristocratic slaveowners” and their northern ilk.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 5 months ago

Well, there's a couple of little things. You know, like slaves were 3/5 ths of a person, but certainly couldn't vote. For that matter, unless you were white, male and a landowner, you couldn't vote, either.

But the point isn't what the text of the constitution says, or whether it's the law of the land. The point is that trying to divine what it means by looking at it through the racist, sexist, elitist eyes of the founding fathers isn't particularly useful.

Peacemaker452 7 years, 5 months ago

Wow, you must be stumping to be the next Supreme Court nominee since you find words that no one else can find in the Constitution. Slaves were originally counted on a 3/5th basis for determining the number of Representatives in the House, not declared “3/5ths of a person”. Also, there is no list in the document that says who can vote. Society decided to limit the rights of certain people, not the Constitution.

The point is exactly what the text says. We have spent over 200 years with the supposed experts trying to divine what it means instead of admitting that the Constitution means exactly what it says, no more and no less. If we don’t like what it says then we need to amend it, not read it in a manner to suit our needs and desires.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 5 months ago

"Society decided to limit the rights of certain people, not the Constitution."

And "society" at that time consisted almost entirely of the white, male aristocrats who wrote the constitution. So trying to divine their true intent in what they wrote is still of dubious value.

Peacemaker452 7 years, 5 months ago

Any data to back that up? Or is it just your "feeling" that white aristocrats were in the majority. Wonder who did all the work? Don't bother saying it was slaves because the census data shows that it is not true. I was going to say that you we spinning a circular argument but concluded that you really don't have a point to argue. You don't like something so it must be false/bad/unjust/racist....... That seems to be the common theme in most of your posts

cato_the_elder 7 years, 5 months ago

Bozo, your distasteful comment is proof positive of the permanently deleterious effect the late '60s had on our collective national psyche, when America-hating by Americans began. Before that time very few, if any, Americans would ever have bought into that kind of ridiculous propaganda.

Read McCullough's "1776" and learn about the relationship George Washington had with his troops, mostly common folk all. Your comment is really disgusting.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 5 months ago

If they weren't dead, the founding fathers would find you a cute little lapdog.

cato_the_elder 7 years, 5 months ago

Bozo, you should revere the people who gave you the liberties you exercise and enjoy every day in this country. If the Founders weren't dead, they would find you an ungrateful cur.

Paul R Getto 7 years, 5 months ago

Some things are the same; the 'founders' were rich landowners for the most part and, despite some of the lofty rhetoric, were interested in preserving the status quo. Their financial and 'moral' descendants (see the Koch brothers) are carrying on the tradition quite well, thank you.

cato_the_elder 7 years, 5 months ago

Ditto to you, China. You should be ashamed.

jafs 7 years, 5 months ago

I'm not sure why cato gets so upset about these comments.

It is an undeniable fact that Jefferson, at the very least, was a slave owner, and that the phrase "All men are created equal", etc. didn't apply to women or black folks at the founding.

I generally like the idea of getting back to some of our founding principles, but the founders were clearly not perfect, and if we went back completely, we'd deny blacks and women equality under the law.

This is not what cato would advocate, I'm pretty sure, is it?

jayhawklawrence 7 years, 5 months ago

Cut spending and allow the Bush tax cuts for the upper crust to expire.

End corporate welfare and increase law enforcement and oversight on wall street and monopolies and International Corporations using loopholes to avoid taxes.

Provide better government protections to US businesses, particularly manufacturers.

Get aggressive about demanding fair trade agreements and enforce them.

Go after predatory law firms through tort reform and clean up the problem of frivolous law suits.

Get rid of columnists and talk show hosts who are not interested in facts but only creating propaganda and disinformation.

Fire Cal Powers for incompetence.

Limit the length of political campaigning and get the money out of politics.

Find a way to overturn the Supreme Court rulling on campaign funding or pass a law to control it. Then limit the ability of government to take private property away from American citizens and to spy on them.

notajayhawk 7 years, 5 months ago

Or, in short, let's just throw the Constitution out the window.

uncleandyt 7 years, 5 months ago

You paid your Social Security to help strangers now, and yourself in the future. Thank you ! Thank me. The Debt Commission, and the Dudes that put them up to it, are seeking the simplest ways to rob you of your investment. The Ditto-Heads will believe what they are told to believe, and some of them will even pass their fresh new wisdom our way, to help strangers now, and the Kingdom of Rush forever and ever, Amen. Word in the car is, Social Security won't be around much longer, so we'd better figure out a way to get rid of it. You don't have to do a thing ! Just keep believing the man in the radio, the man who makes millions and millions of dollars each year and only pays Social Security on the first hundred thousand. Yep, there is a cap. If Social Security is really in trouble mathematically, and if our lords are actually interested in fixing the trouble, the cap could be raised. But, that would be asking the wealthy to share more. It's traditionally easier to get the less powerful people to share more. So, let's raise the retirement age to 80 or 90, with the quiet understanding that many of us won't be around to see the benefits of our investment. U-S-A! U-S-A!!

notajayhawk 7 years, 5 months ago

"If Social Security is really in trouble mathematically, and if our lords are actually interested in fixing the trouble, the cap could be raised."

If you're going to raise the cap, are you also going to raise the maximum benefit? If you are, it just makes the problem worse, not better. If not, you're just asking for welfare.

cato_the_elder 7 years, 5 months ago

Deathpenaltyliberal, I read and studied The Federalist Papers decades before anyone had ever dreamt of Fox News.

If it's your position that The Federalist Papers are not enlightening as to how the Founders viewed the role of government, then you're in a minority of approximately one on that subject.

notajayhawk 7 years, 5 months ago

Wow. You mean two hundred years ago, as now, there wasn't unanimous agreement by our lawmakers. I'm shocked.

cato_the_elder 7 years, 5 months ago

Just as I always remember whenever a self-proclaimed "constitutional scholar" solemnly intones his belief that the intent of the Founding Fathers is irrelevant.

jayhawklawrence 7 years, 5 months ago

I believe they were less polarized back in the day and they had tremendous respect for George Washington as their leader.

The United States of America and its constitution is a miracle in history. I carry a copy in my notebook everyday.

That being said, as with a lack of respect toward authority and the elderly and the family unit, our culture now takes aim at our history and our founders.

jafs 7 years, 5 months ago

We should neither idealize nor demonize our founders.

They were visionaries who had some wonderful ideals, but also people who owned slaves, and didn't include women in their "All are created equal" ideology.

cato_the_elder 7 years, 5 months ago

Jafs, I wonder how you will enjoy being labeled a bigot 200 years from now under customs and mores that will exist then.

jafs 7 years, 5 months ago

So you think we should return to the original idea of "all created equal" so as to exclude black people and women?

And to the practice of slavery?

cato_the_elder 7 years, 5 months ago

That ain't what I said, jafs. Read it again.

jafs 7 years, 5 months ago

I know that "ain't" what you said.

I'm pushing you on the question, because you state we should all "revere" our founding fathers, and not criticize them.

What's your position on the issues I mentioned?

cato_the_elder 7 years, 5 months ago

As I said, if you want to criticize those of the Founders who owned slaves or tolerated it, you're judging them by 2010 standards. As I also said, by what standards will you be judged in 2210? What if the American people were to demand that our governing bodies become less and less collectivist so that by 2210 individual freedom and initiative operating successfully with far less governmental interference and concomitant dependency on government had again gradually become the norm? Wouldn't that result in those then-deceased citizens who in 2010 had supported full-blown socialized medicine, for example, being viewed historically as heartless thieves of individual freedom and responsibility who advocated policies that were designed to enslave as many people as possible to government control over their lives? Would that include you?

jafs 7 years, 5 months ago

Nice way to avoid answering the question.

I guess I'll just have to conclude that you see nothing wrong with being a slave-owner and denying the right to vote or own property to women.

cato_the_elder 7 years, 5 months ago

Jafs, nice way to avoid answering my question. I guess I'll just have to conclude that you can't grasp what I'm talking about.

jafs 7 years, 5 months ago

Still haven't answered my question.

I wonder why not.

cato_the_elder 7 years, 5 months ago

I answered it rhetorically, as Socrates would have done with Plato. It's unfortunate that you don't get that.

jafs 7 years, 4 months ago

There must be some reason that you don't answer it directly and clearly.

Plato was Socrates' student - that model doesn't apply well to our conversations.

cato_the_elder 7 years, 4 months ago

Well, since you never listen, perhaps you're right.

jafs 7 years, 5 months ago

History will make whatever judgments it makes, as it always does.

I imagine by the time I've been dead for 200 years, nobody will be talking much about me at all - I don't expect to be a historically important person.

Do you think that slave-owning will become approved of in the future?

Sunny Parker 7 years, 5 months ago

Where are the jobs that Obomba promised?

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