Ask yourself this question: How old will you be in the year 2040? The answer will give you an idea of the magnitude of the bipartisan fiscal catastrophe in Washington.
Under a long-term budget plan proposed last week by House Republicans, 2040 is the first year the annual federal budget will be balanced. And the House GOP budget imposes steeper cuts than all the alternatives floating about the nation’s capitol.
Yes, people, we are in a deep hole.
Give the House Republicans some credit. At least they have lined up behind something. By contrast, the Senate Democrats for the past three years have abdicated all responsibility to approve an annual budget.
And while President Barack Obama outlined his budget plan earlier this year, one gets the feeling that White House advisers put it together by throwing darts at a board.
The House Republicans at least acknowledge that Washington must devise a solution to the exploding growth in the entitlement programs of Medicare, which provides health coverage to the elderly, and Medicaid, which covers low-income Americans. Without dealing with Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, it is virtually impossible to balance the budget.
So that’s the good news in the budget drafted by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., a 1992 graduate of Miami University in Oxford.
But Ryan’s plan disappoints a number of budget experts because he included steep cuts in income and business taxes. Not only are the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts extended under his plan, but he wants to scrap the current income-tax code with its five individual brackets and replace them with two: 25 percent and 10 percent.
He also would eliminate scores of deductions, although he doesn’t say which. There is a reason for that vagueness. A lot of those deductions are very popular with Americans.
But the plain fact is the House GOP plan will not produce enough money to balance the books, forcing lawmakers to make politically unacceptable reductions in federal spending.
“Ryan’s budget inadvertently demonstrates how implausible it is to balance the budget without raising taxes,’’ said Robert Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, a non-partisan organization in Washington that presses for balanced budgets.
So now Americans can choose between two diametrically opposite plans — Ryan’s and Obama’s. And in both budget plans, ideology trumps reality. The conservative obsession with cutting taxes collides with the liberal insistence that major reforms of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security are off limits.
The reason for the timidity on both sides is that it can be painful to tell Americans the truth about the deficit. In 1990 and 1993, respectively, Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton pushed through Congress dramatic budget plans that paved the way for the federal government to run annual surpluses from 1998 through 2001.
Both presidents broke campaign promises on taxes to win congressional approval for their budget deals, and both were punished by voters: Bush lost his re-election bid to Clinton, and Clinton lost control of the Senate and House in 1994.
“Bush 41 and Clinton made tough choices, they both paid a political price of different magnitudes, but they both did the right thing for America,’’ said David Walker, former comptroller of the United States and now the head of Comeback America Initiative, which champions reducing the federal debt. “And they deserve a lot of credit for that.”
By contrast, Walker said, former President George W. Bush and Obama were not serious about deficits. “The difference is President (George W.) Bush’s term is over,” Walker said. “President Obama still has time to change course, but the fact is we are not going to see any significant progress before the election, and he may not have a second term.’’