Ignoring the National Debt Endangers Our Country

 

Here is the preliminary version of my campaign announcement, now scheduled for Wednesday, January 24, for the Nebraska Republican Primary for U.S. Senate:

“This may sound overly dramatic but if we ignore the debt much longer, it will endanger the future of our country.

This is exactly what the new tax law does, in spite of its otherwise good features, by increasing the debt by $1 trillion over the next decade.  And 51 Republican Senators voted for this new law, including Nebraska’s Deb Fischer who is running for reelection this year.  I am running for her seat to challenge her about our ballooning debt because she is doing nothing about it and has just voted to make it worse!

First of all, the chart below shows why our debt situation is so serious. It now sits at 77% of GDP (for the public part on which we pay interest), the highest since WWII, and is predicted by the Congressional Budget Office to keep getting steadily worse, hitting almost 100% of GDP by 2027.


Right now interest rates are so low, less than 2%, that our debt is almost “free” money.  But this cannot and will not last much longer.  Inflation has already started to increase and the Federal Reserve has started to raise interest rates.

Rising interest rates mean much higher interest payments on our debt. This will put an enormous strain on the federal budget, choking off spending for many of the things such as education, scientific and medical research, infrastructure and social programs which so enhance our quality of life.

And furthermore, these much higher interest payments on the debt will continue, and even grow worse, indefinitely into the future, placing a huge burden on future generations, our children and grandchildren.

The solution is to shrink our annual deficits ($668 billion in FY2017 and likely over $700 billion for 2018) down to a much more manageable level so that our debt will also shrink as a percentage of GDP.

I emphasize that this can be done in a sensible, non-disruptive way by simply curtailing spending increases in most government programs without actual budget cuts, and thereby reducing our huge annual deficits over a period of several years.

The Affordable Care Act expands access to healthcare (which is good!) but does nothing to control cost (which is bad!).  American healthcare needs major changes.  One way to do this is to abolish the employer mandate and migrate from employer provided health insurance to personal insurance with age-based, instead of income based, tax credits.  Medicaid can move to the same age-based (refundable) tax credit system. Also fix Medicare by making Medical Savings Accounts readily available for Medicare Advantage plans and then encouraging migration from regular Medicare to Medicare Advantage.

Such major changes as I have proposed above likely will be considered controversial.  However, which is better, to implement major changes in a rational, careful manner while there is time or rather to wait for a new fiscal crisis, much worse than the Financial Crisis of 2008, which will inevitably occur down the road if we continue to ignore the debt?

Summary. The U.S. has a horrendous debt problem which is getting worse all the time.  We badly need representatives in Congress who will stop ignoring our debt and make reducing it a very top priority.  This is why I am challenging Deb Fischer as she runs for reelection. “

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Why We Cannot Wait to Fix the Debt

 

A Letter from Birmingham Jail   Why we cannot wait  Martin Luther King, Jr., April 16, 1963

Yesterday was Martin Luther King Day and every year at this time we are reminded of his eloquent letter from the Birmingham Jail, “Why we cannot wait,” written to some of his hesitant supporters in the Spring of 1963.
African-Americans were tired of waiting so long for equal rights in their own country.  On my own personal scale, I am so frustrated by the inability of our political system to address our massive debt problem, that I am getting organized to enter the 2018 Nebraska Republican Senate Primary against the incumbent Deb Fischer who has just voted (with the new tax law) to increase our debt by $1 trillion over the next decade.
Basically I am saying that our debt is so large and growing so fast that it will soon be out of control if we don’t take action to start reducing it very soon.


Consider:

  • The public debt (on which we pay interest) is now 77% of GDP, the highest since WWII, and projected by the Congressional Budget Office to keep getting steadily worse. It will grow by $11.5 trillion in just 10 years to almost 100% of GDP and will reach 150% of GDP, double the current level, by 2047, without major changes in current policy.
  • A fiscal crisis, much worse than the Financial Crisis of 2008, will occur long before 2047 if nothing is done to greatly shrink our annual deficits which are again rapidly approaching the trillion dollar per year level.
  • The new tax law increases deficits by an average of $100 billion per year, and therefore makes it that much harder to shrink them down substantially. It is imperative for the two parties, Democrats and Republicans, to work together to figure out how to do this.

Conclusion. Our national debt is so large and growing so fast that it is virtually out of control. We need prompt and fairly strong action to turn the situation around.  I have often discussed one major way to do this.

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It Is Awfully Easy to Get Discouraged about Our Debt Problem

 

Six years ago I was a candidate for the Republican nomination for Nebraska’s Second District Congressional seat. I lost in the May 2012 Primary.  After the November 2012 national election I began writing this blog It Does Not Add Up focused on fiscal and economic issues, mainly our large and rapidly growing national debt. I have now been blogging on this issue for over five years and the debt problem is just getting worse and worse.  Here is where we are right now:

  • All 52 Republican Senators voted for the new tax law which, in spite of its beneficial tax reforms, adds $1 trillion to our debt over the next decade (after growth is taken into account).
  • The Congressional Budget Office projects our debt to grow by $11.5 over the next ten years. In FY2019, just one year from now, CBO projects the deficit will exceed  will exceed $1 trillion and equal 4.7% of GDP.  By 2047 federal debt will reach 150% of GDP, almost double the current 77%.

  • In our polarized Congress, Republicans insist on increasing defense spending, Democrats insist on increasing domestic spending and trying to put any limits on entitlement spending is very difficult. Republicans are willing to cut taxes but there is little enthusiasm for raising them.
  • The present stalemate will eventually lead to a new fiscal crisis, much worse than the Financial Crisis of 2008, without major changes in current policy. The thought of having to drastically cut many different spending programs in the middle of a huge fiscal crisis is horrifying.
  • Are there any alternatives? Calling a Constitutional Convention for balancing the budget, establishing term limits and/or limiting Congressional power (Convention of States), have created much interest but are long shots which may never happen.

Conclusion. Somehow or other we need to light a fire under enough members of Congress to persuade them to take our rapidly accumulating debt very seriously. Let me know (jackheidel@yahoo.com) if you are willing to work with me to do something along these lines!

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Why Am I So Fixated on Our Debt Problem?

 

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.

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Ignoring Massive Public Debt Is Morally Unacceptable

 

The House and Senate have now each passed their own versions of tax reform and a conference will come up with a single version acceptable to both legislative chambers. Each of the individual bills has been scored to add $1 trillion to the national debt over a ten year period and so the final bill will probably have the same feature.  This is a badge of dishonor on the controlling Republican Congress for the following reasons:

  • Yes, economic growth at 2.1% of GDP since the end of the Great Recession is too slow and has caused stagnant wages for millions of middle- and lower-income workers. Even though the unemployment rate has now dropped to 4.1% and the economy has grown at a rate of 3% for the past two quarters, there is still much labor slack to make up for.
  • Yes, the corporate tax rate is too high and encourages multinational companies to invest overseas. Immediate expensing for new business investment would also speed up growth and thereby create new jobs and higher wages.
  • Revenue neutral tax reform is “easily” accomplished by “simply” offsetting all tax rate cuts by closing loopholes and shrinking deductions by an equal amount. Since two thirds of taxpayers do not itemize deductions, it is primarily the higher income taxpayers who benefit from tax deductions and they can afford to pay higher taxes.

  • Current national debt, at 77% of GDP (for the public debt on which we pay interest), is the highest it has been since right after WWII, and is already predicted by the CBO to steadily keep getting worse. When interest rates eventually return to more normal and higher levels, interest payments on the debt will soar. And this will continue indefinitely, eventually leading to a new fiscal crisis, much worse than the Financial Crisis of 2008.

The GOP tax plan should be killed. Although a revenue-neutral tax plan could be put together and would be beneficial, the current plan makes our debt much worse and should be killed. We simply must make shrinking the debt a very high priority and not be distracted from getting this done.

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Understanding Economic Growth

 

One of the major topics I discuss on this blog is:

  • Economic growth, in particular the fact that the U.S. economy has grown at the relatively slow rate of 2.1% per year since the end of the Great Recession in June 2009. It appears, however, that the economy may now be starting to pick up speed.

There are plenty of “experts” who say that it is unrealistic to expect economic growth to continue indefinitely at the same level (3% on average) which has prevailed since the end of WWII because:

  • Resources are limited. The earth is finite but it is also vast. It is unlikely that any mineral or even energy source such as fossil fuels will be depleted for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. If and when any particular resource becomes scarce, human ingenuity will be able to find a replacement.
  • Population growth is slowing down. It is likely that human population worldwide will level off this century somewhere between 9 and 10 billion. This is highly desirable but is unlikely to slow down economic growth. As income and education levels rise, productivity and GDP per person will also increase.
  • Growth tends to be debt financed which is unsustainable.  I agree with this reservation. This is the one problem, if not solved, which has the potential to derail continued steady progress.

The remarkable human progress of the last 200 years is likely to continue indefinitely.  In particular:

Conclusion. The world has enjoyed remarkable human progress in the last two hundred years, in the form of steady economic growth, and this progress is likely to continue indefinitely into the future.

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New Urgency in Deficit and Debt Control

 

The general theme of this blog is major fiscal and economic issues facing the U.S. such as slow economic growth and huge debt. But our currently low unemployment rate of 4.4% and several trends, here and here, suggest that economic growth may already be starting to pick up.
This means that our huge debt, now 77%, for the public part on which we pay interest, the highest it has been since right after WWII, is now one of the very biggest problems facing our country.
Consider:

  • The only practical way to “solve” our debt problem (so to speak) is for each year’s annual deficit to be less than economic growth for that year. When this happens, then the debt will decrease as a percentage of GDP. If this pattern were to hold year after year, then debt would continue to shrink. This is exactly what happened from 1946 until about 1980 but since then the pattern has reversed and the debt has increased. It has grown especially fast since the financial crisis in 2008 (see chart).
  • The Fiscal Year 2017 deficit is $700 billion out of a total GDP of $20 trillion, which computes to 3.5% of GDP, well above the 2% annual growth of GDP for the 2017 FY. This means that our debt got worse in 2017.
  • Congress has already approved $15 billion in disaster relief for Hurricane Harvey. Now the White House is asking for $29 billion more ($12.8 billion for new disaster relief, especially for Puerto Rico, and $16 billion for the National Flood Insurance Program).  Congress has also approved a big increase in the Defense Budget, to $700 billion, for the 2018 FY.
  • Congress will soon be approving a budget for 2018 and then start working on a tax reform package. Given the likely increases in both military spending and disaster relief described above, it is now even more important for the new budget to show overall spending restraint and for the tax reform package to be revenue neutral.

Conclusion. Let’s hope that Congress gets the message about the new urgency of our debt problem and acts accordingly!

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