SKINFLINT PUBLIC servant U.S. Sen. Bill Proxmire marches on Watson Street in July 1976 during Ripon’s bicentennial parade. 
		     RCP file photo
SKINFLINT PUBLIC servant U.S. Sen. Bill Proxmire marches on Watson Street in July 1976 during Ripon’s bicentennial parade. RCP file photo

     Consider these three events that occurred within 10 hours, from Thursday, Feb. 8 at 3 p.m. CST to Friday, Feb. 9 at 1 a.m. CST:

    * The Dow finished with a decline of 1,033 points, the second-worst point drop in history, eclipsed only by a 1,175-point nosedive three days earlier;

     * Congress passed (and President Trump later signed) a bipartisan agreement that boosts federal spending limits by $300 billion over the next two years, leading to a projected federal budget deficit that could reach $1.2 trillion in fiscal year 2019, according to preliminary Congressional Budget Office projections;

     * A political science professor told a Ripon College audience about the surprising frequency of “political hypocrisy,” whereby people’s actions belie their words and even beliefs.

     A cynical conclusion one might draw from these three seemingly disparate occurrences in New York, Washington, D.C. and Ripon is that the fiscal discipline espoused by many self-described conservatives in power is a charade that puts Americans at economic peril.

     But all three can be tied together, less in terms of causation than in sharing the peril of unintended consequences.

     ... The Federal Reserve looks to raise short-term interest rates — the cost to borrow — to slow the economy before it crashes and burns. This causes skittish investors to reduce their stock holdings, hence, the market corrections.

     Meanwhile, the spending deal passed Feb. 9 also may stimulate an economy that, remember, already may be overheating, while the Treasury Department is forced to borrow more money by selling more bonds whose rates must go up to attract buyers.

     Meanwhile, interest that annually must be paid on the national debt continues to climb. Right now it’s at $266 billion, about 6.5 percent of the fiscal year 2018 U.S. federal budget. That makes it the fifth largest budget item, behind only Social Security benefits ($948 billion), military spending ($773.5 billion), Medicare ($592 billion) and Medicaid ($385 billion).

     But here’s the takeaway: While the economy is cyclical, debt accumulation is not. Debt compounds, and absent any natural predator — the grassroots Tea Party movement and House Freedom Caucus were eviscerated in the Feb. 9 spending spree Congress passed — it threatens to build on itself as interest on the debt mounts and politicians have neither the will nor the courage to tell the American people, “We can’t afford it.”

   Asked to comment on the pending U. S. debt crisis at a Ripon Noon Kiwanis Club meeting six years ago, then U.S. Rep. Petri, R-Fond du Lac, offered no solutions ...[but] said back then that he wasn’t worried because the U.S. economy would grow us out of the debt.

    Asked by the Commonwealth last week to comment on the Feb. 9 federal spending plan he voted for earlier that day, Petri’s successor — Rep. Glenn Grothman, R-Glenbeulah — said essentially the same thing, noting how much more money can be added to the coffers of a nation whose economy expands from 2 to 4 percent growth.

     This is not a partisan rant. While Republicans are “political hypocrites” who can’t walk their talk, Democrats don’t even pretend to be frugal. In his eight years in office, President Obama added $9 trillion to the national debt — more than any other president. And Grothman’s opponent this November, Democrat Dan Kohl, gives little lip service to being fiscally responsible nor does his website make any reference to the looming debt crisis.

     t’s not in vogue today to suggest that in the face of staggering debt, America’s political leaders have to make hard decisions about some major budget drivers: entitlements and Pentagon spending. To that last point, where is the next Sen. Bill Proxmire, Wisconsin’s mavericky miser who had the guts to call out wasteful appropriations, including Pentagon boondoggles ...?

     Budgetary extravagance not only is irresponsible, it’s dangerous.  

     In a Feb. 13 Senate hearing, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats warned that Washington’s lack of fiscal discipline undermines national security. “The failure to address our long-term fiscal situation has increased the national debt to over $20 trillion and growing,” Coats warned. “This situation is unsustainable, as I think we all know, and represents a dire threat to our economic and national security.”

     When America declares bankruptcy, it will be both financial and moral.
                                                        — Tim Lyke

To read the entire editorial, see the Feb. 22, 2018 edition of The Ripon Commonwealth Press.