Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Kick the Can

When I was a kid one of our favorite games to play was “kick-the-can.” When evening came we would gather all the neighborhood kids, choose a seeker, then the rest of us would go hide somewhere in the back yards. If you got found you’d go to the holding spot and stay there until someone was sly and brave enough to sneak over when the seeker wasn’t looking, and kick the can. Its clanging noise signaled that all the captives were free to run off and hide again. We’d play this for hours, either until we decided to go TP someone’s house or until someone’s mom started calling everyone in.

I guess some things never change. I don’t think many of us are out tossing toilet paper rolls across the neighbor’s tree tops (although we may be caught driving a get-away car), but kick-the-can is as popular as ever. Only it’s become “kick-the-can-down-the-road.” The game now consists of taking some small actions in deficit decisions, then requiring someone else to make the bigger decisions later on, like when an election isn’t happening, and a presidency isn’t at stake. The only problem is that no one’s mom is calling everyone to quit the game—it just keeps going on and on. And, frankly, it isn’t fun any more.

Lawmakers have cut the 2012 budget by $21 billion. It sounds like a lot. Until you compare it to the total expenditures of $3.7 trillion. That’s a very tiny drop in a very big bucket. Someone else will have to make bigger cuts—down the road.

And I think we have every reason to expect interest rates to go up, especially after our own credit downgrade recently. If lenders ask for even just a 1% increase in interest rates to lend us money, the budget deficit will rise by $1.3 trillion over ten years. That looks like $1,300,000,000,000. And that would wipe out all of the 10 years of cuts proposed in the debt deal.

It’s sort of like the digging going on in the fields behind our house this summer. Huge earth movers and dump trucks have been working each day at tearing down a big hill. A giant digger shovels up big loads of dirt, and the trucks take them away to dump somewhere else. They nearly had the hill leveled. Until they started bringing in different dirt. The dump trucks now haul a new, different kind of dirt back to the hill site and unload it, building it back up. So, although it’s different, the hill is still there.

We need leaders who will dig away the hill and not keep replacing the dirt. Our country needs leaders who will step up and call everyone in from hiding. Play time’s over. Kick-the-can must end before we kick the bucket.

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