The Deficits Republicans Don't Want to Talk About
I agree with Republicans - America has a deficit problem. It’s just not the same deficit problem Republicans are freaking out about.
Shortly after sweeping the November midterms, Speaker of the House Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, outlining their plans for the upcoming Congress. In that op-ed, they wrote that Republicans would work to address, “a national debt that has Americans stealing from their children and grandchildren, robbing them of benefits that they will never see and leaving them with burdens that will be nearly impossible to repay.”
As usual, Boehner and McConnell were sounding the alarms over our nation’s federal deficit, something Republicans like to do a near-daily basis. But, what they didn’t say in that op-ed is that our federal deficit has actually improved A LOT in recent years.
Our federal deficit has been slashed by over two-thirds since President Obama took office, and deficits over the next decade are going to be around $4.7 trillion dollars lower than what the Congress Budget Office estimated just four years ago. Instead of focusing on a federal deficit that’s at its lowest point in years, Republicans should instead be focusing on America’s real deficit problem.
In a new report titled, “We Must Rebuild the Disappearing Middle Class,” Senator Bernie Sanders talks about the other deficits we are facing as a nation, and how we can go about addressing them. Those deficits are in jobs, infrastructure, income, equality, retirement security, education, and trade.
Right now, millions of Americans are unemployed or underemployed. As Senator Sanders points out in his report, the real unemployment rate, which counts those underemployed and those who have given up looking for work, sits at a staggering 11.2%. This is not a problem that we can just ignore.
Instead, Senator Sanders is arguing that we take a page out of FDR’s playbook, and create a new federal jobs program, which would put millions of unemployed and underemployed Americans to work in good-paying jobs.
One of the fastest ways to create those jobs is by addressing our nation’s infrastructure deficit. As we speak, our bridges are falling down, our roads are buckling, and our transportation systems are a joke compared to the rest of the developed world. As a result, the American Society of Civil Engineers gives America a dismal D+ rating on overall infrastructure.
Ever since Reagan came to Washington and blew up federal funding for infrastructure projects, our country hasn’t been the same. It’s literally been crumbling to the ground. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have neglected our nation’s physical infrastructure for too long, and it’s time for a change. By investing $1 trillion in infrastructure spending over the next five years, as Senator Sanders suggests in his report, we could help create over 13 million good-paying jobs AND bring America out of the 19th century and into the 21st century.
Meanwhile, while we’re addressing America’s infrastructure deficit, we must do something about the income and equality deficits plaguing our country. It’s absolutely insane that in the richest country in the world millions and millions of people are struggling to survive and put food on the table.
As the Sanders report points out, “We must raise the minimum wage to a livable wage. In the year 2015, no one in America who works full time should be living in poverty.” But raising the minimum wage alone isn’t enough to level the playing field and combat our nation’s wealth inequality epidemic.
Right now, the top 1% of Americans control nearly as much wealth as the bottom 90%, while 400 Americans own more wealth than the bottom 150 million Americans combined. That’s inexcusable. Heck, even Ronald Reagan thought it was crazy. Speaking about America’s tax loopholes during a speech in 1985, Reagan said that, “in practice they sometimes made it possible for millionaires to pay nothing, while a bus driver was paying ten percent of his salary, and that’s crazy. Do you think the millionaire ought to pay more in taxes than the bus driver or less?” And, of course, the audience answered, "More!"
It’s time to make the wealthy elite and giant transnational corporations pay their fair share to support our economy.
While it’s important to make sure that all Americans have an equal shot at success, it’s also important to ensure that all Americans can retire comfortably. As Senators Sanders points out, “Today, only one out of five workers in America has a traditional defined benefit that guarantees income in retirement. Nearly half of all Americans have less than $10,000 in savings.”
Fortunately, there’s a pretty easy fix for America’s retirement deficit: expand Social Security. Instead of focusing on cuts to it, our lawmakers need to be talking about how to expand this vital lifeline for millions of Americans.
Next, we need to address our nation’s education deficit, which is keeping us so far behind much of the developed world. Right now, there’s over $1.2 trillion in outstanding student loan debt in America. That’s because college has become so expensive that getting a degree also means taking on mountains of student loan debt. And those mountains of student loan debt are also hurting our nation’s economic recovery. It’s a lose-lose situation. We need to make to be making it easier to get a college degree in America, not harder.
Finally, we need to tackle America’s ballooning trade deficit and out-of-whack trade policies.
Last year, our trade deficit stood at $493 billion. Meanwhile, years of so-called “free trade” deals have exported millions of good-paying American jobs overseas. We need to rework our trade policy, and stop signing on to so-called “free trade” deals that export jobs and screw over working-class Americans.
So, when Republicans whine about America having a deficit problem, they’re right. We do have a deficit problem. BUT, it’s not our federal deficit that’s the problem. Instead, it’s the deficit in our spending on infrastructure, on education, and on job creation that’s really keeping our country down.
As Senator Sanders writes, “While we must continue to focus on the federal deficit, we must also be aware that there are other deficits in our society that have been causing horrendous pain for the vast majority of the American people.” It’s time to stop that pain, and start making America great again.