Did anyone notice the bill we sent to our children recently? With barely a peep from fiscal conservatives, Republicans, the president, or the press the congress raised the debt ceiling by $800,000,000,000 (that's eight hundred billion, folks). A bill that will come due sometime in the future, after this congress and president has long gone. A bill that our children will pay; and pay, and pay.
We all heard the excuses for raising this debt limit. It was necessary to keep the government running, we will deal with budget deficits later, and without it essential services will end. What we did not hear was how this additional debt is to be added to the already massive federal deficit of $7,500,000,000,000 (yep, 7.5 trillion) that has been run up in just the past four years.
What is interesting is within two days after raising the federal debt limit the Republican-controlled congress passed, finally, an omnibus spending bill. This is the budget that will spend all that debt just approved. And what will it be spent for? Here is a sample of the nearly 10,000 special projects Congress funded for over $25 billion:
$225,000 for the Blue-Gray Theme Park in Kentucky
$2,000,000 for the First Tee program (run by the wealthy Professional Golfers Association)
$250,000 for the Lou Frey Institute of Politics, at the University of Central Florida
$270,000 for sustainable olive production
$1,400,000 for the Translational Genomics Research Institute in Phoenix, Arizona.
Certainly each of these pet projects, affectionately known as 'pork', will help someone do something. Probably they are necessary to keep our already uncompetitive House races even more uncompetitive. Over the holidays our elected leaders fanned out over the country to tell folks at home about all the stuff they put in local Christmas stockings.
But the combination of a growing national debt and tax cuts for the rich means something has to go. Can we imagine all those little pork projects ending? No, what will probably go will be the services upon which our children depend. Services that make it possible for them to grow up and become the citizens our democracy needs.
For example, to pay off just $1 trillion of the federal debt would require that we cut funding for more classroom teachers, teachers that reduce class size and improve public schooling. A cut of this magnitude would eliminate 400,000 teachers each year for the next 50 years.
To cover just 1/7th of the debt the Head Start program, a program run by local communities and one of the most effective government programs ever launched, would have to cut services to 1.5 million children nationwide every year for the next one hundred years.
To cover just 1/100th of this growing national debt would require cutting health care insurance to 5 million poor children for 10 years, or stopping the next 10 years of free school lunches for the 24 million children who count on these as their only hot meal of the day.
The list of what our children will lose in the coming years to cover our current unwillingness to pay our fair share is terrifying. And the terror grows daily along with the national debt. We avoid this terror by ignoring the problem, but our children have no such option.
Federal borrowing to pay for pet projects to keep congress elected and tax cuts for rich contributors to political campaigns do not put dollars in our pockets free of charge. No, they take dollars out of the pockets of our children, who we saddle with debt because we do not have the courage to pay our own way. Our government behaves like a dead-beat dad, unwilling to pay child support for the children we say we love.
What we need is not more debt or tax cuts. What we need is a fair system of taxation, an efficient government, and a leadership that sees the most important work of a democratic government is to invest in a future for the next generation - not squander our resources on the excesses of this one.
George Wood is Principal of Federal Hocking High School in Stewart, Ohio and Director of The Forum for Education and Democracy.