In a few days I expect to announce my candidacy for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Deb Fischer. She is running for reelection and apparently is quite popular in Nebraska. But she has one huge liability as far as I’m concerned. First of all, she is a big spender. But now as well she has just voted for the new tax law which will increase our debt by $1 trillion over the next decade. In other words she is flagrantly guilty of ignoring our very serious debt problem even as it continues to get worse.
People sometimes ask me why I am so fixated on the debt. After all, there are plenty of other important issues that we should be concerned about. The answer is that uncontrolled debt affects almost everything else government does because as interest rates increase, eventually interest payments on the debt will skyrocket.
Defense spending, so critical to our role as the world’s major superpower, which maintains peace and stability in the world, will be threatened.
Run-away inflation is likely to result from the buildup of the debt bubble and this will erode the economic security which is so important to our way of life.
The international standing of the dollar, so critical to our leadership role in the financial world, will be weakened.
Spending for programs such as education, research and infrastructure, so important to our quality of life, will be threatened.
By focusing so strongly on the debt issue, hopefully I will be able to persuade large numbers of people that I am really serious about taking strong action to address it effectively.
Conclusion. There are lots of issues which will come up on the campaign trail in a Senate race. But my campaign will be focused on our gigantic debt problem. If we can’t get our debt under control, then our entire way of life is threatened. It is that simple.
My last post, “The Major Challenges Facing the United States,” came to the conclusion that, while the U.S. has many big problems to address, our national debt is the biggest problem of all, because it will be so hard to deal with through the political process.
Our total national debt is now $19.9 trillion. The so-called public debt, on which we pay interest, is $15 trillion, or 77% of GDP, the highest it has been since right after WWII. Furthermore it is predicted by the Congressional Budget Office to keep getting steadily worse, reaching 90% of GDP by 2025 and 150% of GDP by 2047 unless current policy is substantially changed.
Right now our debt is almost “free” money since interest rates are so low. But when interest rates return to more normal levels, interest payments on the debt will skyrocket by hundreds of billions of dollars per year, likely leading to a new fiscal crisis, much worse than the Financial Crisis of 2008.
The only sane solution to this humongous problem is to start shrinking our annual deficits, this year at about $685 billion, down close to zero over a period of several years. This will require a painful combination of spending curtailments and perhaps some tax increases as well.
One possible way to accomplish this herculean task has been laid out by Barron’s economic journalist Gene Epstein, see here and here. Mr. Epstein’s plan would balance the budget in ten years by decreasing projected spending by $8.6 trillion, with 60% of spending curtailments coming from the entitlement programs of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and the rest from both military and domestic discretionary programs.
It needs to be strongly emphasized that under the Epstein plan spending would not actually decrease from one year to the next, but would rather grow at a slower rate, from $3.9 trillion in 2016 to $4.7 trillion in 2026. His plan would decrease the public debt from 77% of GDP today to 58% in 2026.
Conclusion. The U.S. faces the very unpleasant problem of excessive debt which will just keep getting worse and worse without making some relatively unpleasant adjustments in the way that the federal government spends money. The sooner we get started in this process the better off we will be.