There was a great deal of discussion about our country's troubling financial situation during this year's election. Deservedly so, our $16 trillion national debt was widely discussed.
President Obama received a great deal of criticism for being "responsible" for 3/8 of that total lump sum. However, I would argue that, regardless of which candidate won, our national debt will continue to spiral out of control without recourse, based on the failed spend-happy policies espoused by both major political parties. Why do I believe this? Consider the following.
Although it is hard to argue against lower taxes, the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 are major reasons why we are in debt. Between 2002 and 2009, these tax cuts reduced federal revenue by 1.8 trillion dollars. Even though the American taxpayers benefited greatly from these tax cuts, the federal government continues to borrow money in excessive amounts to make up the difference for this lost revenue. Both Obama and Romney supported these cuts (Obama slightly differed by only supporting cuts for lower and middle class taxpayers).
In 2008, the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) injected $700 billion of borrowed money to save the American banking system. Both candidates unequivocally supported this legislation. In fact, both vice president candidates voted for them as well. On the House floor, Paul Ryan explained his vote, "This bill offends my principles, but I am going to vote for this bill in order to preserve my principles." Are these the words of a true "fiscal hawk"?
Our military intervention abroad certainly hasn't been cheap either. According to Brown University's Cost of War Project, the combined expenses of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan total at least $3.2 trillion since 2001. The Congressional Budget Office also projects another $2.4 trillion in added costs by 2017 when considering unintended expenses, like interest payments on financing these wars on borrowed money and the anticipated medical costs associated with supporting our veterans when they return home (that is, IF they ever return home). Afghanistan was a justified military expense when we accomplished our mission of bringing those responsible for the 9/11 attacks to justice, but our prolonged nation-building efforts have reached excessive levels. Also, with conflicts arising in Libya, Yemen, Syria and Iran, the United States will most certainly have a continued military presence in the Middle East for the foreseeable future. Both candidates vocally supported this indefinite military intervention abroad.
And how about programs and policies that don't necessarily appear on the federal balance sheets? Our disgustingly huge entitlement programs — Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — currently represent an unfunded liability of $106 trillion. Also, the monetary policy of the Federal Reserve represents a hidden cost when it continues to inflate the value of our currency. Three rounds of quantitative easing — to the tune of $2.1 trillion in assets that were purchased with money printed out of thin air — have substantially devalued the purchasing power of the American dollar. Neither candidate came remotely close to scratching the surface on these daunting economic patterns.
The only true difference between the candidates was the Affordable Care Act, which represents another spike in our national debt when it goes into effect in 2014. However, with a divided Congress (unless something happens during the midterm elections), it is highly doubtful that Mitt Romney would have been able to successfully dismantle Obamacare without congressional gridlock. Plus, Romney supported the individual mandate, which provided the judicial precedent for this legislation.
Considering the fact that these big ticket items received resounding bipartisan support, it is safe to say that the debt will continue to increase regardless of who resides in the Oval Office. Republicans and Democrats continue to fail the American public on a daily basis by kicking the can down the road, yet we just keep electing and re-electing them. Does anybody else hear the sound of Nero's fiddle? Apparently, we learned nothing from the Roman Empire.