During a normal day in your life, how often do you think about the federal government’s budget deficit?
It’s not a rhetorical question, but one reasonably easy to answer — never. But if you are among the rare Americans who ponder the imponderable, you will be interested to learn the U.S. federal budget deficit is creeping up on $1 trillion, the highest it has been for the better part of a decade.
On the other hand, if you are a college graduate or the parent of a college grad, how often do you think about student loan debt?
Again, not a rhetorical question, but painfully easy to answer, and we do mean painful — just about every waking hour of every day of your life.
Student debt has reached a new peak, about $1.5 trillion. Many of those students up to their earbuds in student loan debt could, literally, be paying off that loan for the rest of their working lives.
If all that doesn’t frighten you on this Halloween Eve, consider this — even though California is enjoying nearly a decade of robust economic growth, 337 of 471 cities in the state do not have enough financial resources to pay what is and will be owed to retirees. Counties aren’t in much better fiscal shape when it comes to pension liabilities.
So, what is the takeaway from all this debt? The obvious answer is that someone, somehow will eventually have to pay these tabs. It has been a subject of considerable debate for Democrats seeking the presidential nomination in the 2020 race.
For example, with regard to the federal budget deficit, the most daunting issue is the future viability of Social Security, Medicare and other government programs upon which tens of millions of Americans rely. One prominent Republican refers to the problem as an “unsustainable sea of red ink.”
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Ironically, that vermillion swamp is one the Republican administration had pledged to drain, at least a little. President Trump promised during his campaign to eliminate the deficit within eight years. Instead, the GOP’s corporate tax-cut package and more government spending has raised the deficit 50 percent since early 2017. The deficit ballooned $205 billion in the past year alone. The feds spent nearly $380 billion on interest payments in the past 12 months — or about the same as was spent on Medicaid services.
All of which underscores the fact that both parties in Congress have abandoned their promises to balance the federal budget. And no one of political consequence is recommending a path out of such debt.
The same is true with student loan debt. Candidates are making their pitch, everything from making the first year of college free for everyone, to getting the government deeper into debt by excusing government-backed student loans altogether. Again, lots of talk, no solutions.
That’s the odd thing about California’s pension problems — very few elected officials are talking about the pension gorilla in the room. It just sits there, menacing, gaining weight by the hour.
Pinning down hard numbers is difficult, but essentially the total unfunded liabilities of the state and local governments is estimated to be somewhere between $333 billion and more than $1 trillion. Santa Barbara County and local governments figure prominently on such lists.
Editorials are supposed to identify a problem and, ideally, offer solutions. Sorry, folks, but there really are only two ways to get out of any sort of debt — pay it off, or declare bankruptcy.
Having these facts in hand, what would be your solution to America’s Halloween-scary debt crisis?