If you watch C-SPAN for awhile, you’re sure to hear a politician or pundit criticizing some idea by comparing it to “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.” It’s a vivid illustration of the short-sightedness and futility of so much of what Washington, D.C., does superficially to improve failed programs.
In Washington today, however, we are witnessing an unprecedented extension of the Titanic analogy: Both parties and both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue are focused on rearranging our deck chairs while there is still time to steer around the iceberg, if only someone would grab the wheel.
This week, The Associated Press reported that for the next two years, the Social Security system will pay out more money than it takes in. The story contained the following bizarre formulation:
“The deficits — $10 billion in 2010 and $9 billion in 2011 — won’t affect payments to retirees because Social Security has accumulated surpluses from previous years totaling $2.5 trillion. But they will add to the overall federal deficit.”
How can it be that Social Security has $2.5 trillion in reserves, but that a mere $19 billion shortfall will add to the federal deficit? Because the “surpluses” do not exist. The Trust Fund is empty and has been for years. There is no money in there, just IOUs. That’s why the 2010-11 shortfalls will add to the deficit — we don’t have the money.
The very concept of a Social Security Trust Fund is not so much a myth as it is a lie. For decades, Congress has raided the Trust Fund to pay for other government programs and used accounting gimmicks to hide the true size of the deficit.
Even at the end of the Clinton administration, when the federal government was supposedly running a surplus, the national debt went up every single year. The surpluses were as imaginary as the Trust Funds.
So insatiable is Washington’s appetite to spend that the federal government has not only spent all the money it has, but all the money previous generations were thought to have saved, and now we’re working our way through the money future generations hope to earn.
What our government has done is a crime. And yet, almost no one in Washington, in either party, seems interested in the giant iceberg we’re steaming toward — not when there are deck chairs to rearrange!
This year alone, the Senate has passed a $787 billion stimulus; a $350 billion Wall Street bailout extension; a $400 billion; earmark-infested omnibus spending bill; a $109 billion loan to the International Monetary Fund; $6 billion to federalize charities and pay volunteers; $3 billion for Cash for Clunkers; $400 million in corporate welfare to help tourism corporations advertise overseas; and a $4 billion bailout of the U.S. Postal Service.
(To see how your senator voted on these titanic spending bills, visit SenateConservatives.com, a site I’ve created to hold senators of both parties accountable.)
And now Congress is working its way through 2010 appropriations bills that will increase spending 10 to 20 percent from last year. Those bills will include thousands of willfully wasteful earmarks, spending billions of dollars we don’t have.
And all of this is being done in a fiscal context that can only be described as terrifying. This year, Washington will spend twice as much as it takes in. The national debt is now as large as our entire economy, nearing $12 trillion borrowed from countries like China.
The long-term projected shortfalls for Social Security and Medicare alone are more than $100 trillion. Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn has warned that every child born in America today is burdened with a $400,000 bill to pay for federal programs in the coming decades.
It’s in this climate — incredibly and maddeningly — that Congress and the president are trying to pass a health care takeover plan that will cost an additional trillion dollars in the short term, and orders of magnitude more in the long run.
And all along, the architects of this fiscal catastrophe are called “progressive” and compassionate while skeptical taxpayers at Tea Parties and town halls are derided as crazy.
And thus comes the Titanic comparison full circle. You see, when our leaders finally run us into that iceberg, they know they will have seats set aside for themselves in the lifeboats. It’s the rest of us, our parents and our children, who will find ourselves locked in steerage, forced by our ruling class to pay for their sins and go down with the sinking ship.
There’s still time to rescue the ship, but Washington is too busy fiddling with the deck chairs. To prevent catastrophe, the American people are going to have to take the wheel.
Republican Jim DeMint is the junior senator from South Carolina.