By Curt Smith for the Indianapolis Business Journal print and online version for May 8, 2017
America’s cumulative debt from the founding to today is $20 trillion. This includes fighting the Revolutionary War, World War II, President Johnson’s Great Society initiative and the stimulus package and revenue contraction brought about by the Great Recession ($8 trillion in new debt in less than a decade).
Telling the story in the above fashion helps people grasp the financial problems facing America. But it fails to sugar-coat the reality of the problem. So when responsible legislators or leaders discuss the problem, we change the channel or tune them out.
They become what the late National Review columnist and TV pundit Kate O’Beirne called “eat your peas Republicans.” That phrase brought a great laugh from the room when I first heard her use it during a Capitol Hill lunch in the mid-1990s. I was a Capitol Hill chief of staff and she was explaining why the Newt Gingrich-led revolution was fizzling out and the approval ratings of Congress were dropping.
“You’re all just a bunch of eat your peas Republicans,” she chortled, “telling the country to eat its vegetables.”
It is hard to “message” responsibility. The Democrats offered free birth control, higher ag subsidies and student loan debt forgiveness. Republicans offered tax reform, spending restraint (not actual cuts) and better fiscal oversight in a contract with America.
We managed then, with the Congress in one party’s hands and the White House held by the other, to restrain spending and actually log the nation’s last surplus (making $40,000 per year and spending “only” $39,000 in our illustration). But it was short-lived.
We need a burst of statesmanship by “eat your peas” Republicans and Democrats to get our fiscal house in order. The last effort, the Simpson-Bowles Commission, was ignored by all, despite Herculean efforts by then-U.S. Sen. Dan Coats of Indiana and the Senate’s bipartisan “Grand Bargain” team.
For such a burst of bipartisanship-budgeting to have any chance of occurring, let alone succeeding, we need a public with an appetite for change and greater financial frugality. That is central to the mission of the Andrew Smith Family Prosperity Center at the Indiana Family Institute. It is a tall order. But if we do not make these changes while we have a modicum of time, drastic economic forces will remake our economy for us.
If that happens, our diet might not even be as healthy but boring as peas. We will be force-fed an extremely thin gruel as retiring baby boomers bust all budgets.•
Smith is president of the Indiana Family Institute and author of “Deicide: Why Eliminating The Deity is Destroying America.” To book Curt for a speaking engagement, click here.