In his State of the Union Address President Obama declared: “Our government shouldn’t make promises we cannot keep, but we must keep the promises we’ve already made.”
It was good applause line, but it glossed over a key point: The promises we’ve already made are the ones we cannot keep.
It is widely accepted that current fiscal policy is unsustainable. By definition, that means something has to change. Yet, if we decide that all promises must be kept, we can’t change anything without “breaking a promise.”
The dilemma for policymakers in Washington is that for years they have made unfunded promises and there is no politically convenient way to reverse this.
The first thing to do is just face up to it.
That’s why a bipartisan group of former members of Congress included this warning among their findings from their Strengthening of America forum series last fall: “We cannot put our debt on a sustainable path without reductions in the projected cost of entitlement programs, cuts in discretionary spending and higher revenues.”
Strictly speaking, any of those things could be characterized as breaking a promise.
It could be argued, for example, that...