Published Feb 15, 2011. By Flora Lethbridge-Cejku.
In The Point News.
It is no longer front-page news that our country is in debt, but just how bad is it? According to Harry Zeeve, National Field Director of the Concord Coalition, we are in the worst financial situation our nation has ever been in. This past Tuesday Zeeve, sponsored by the Center for the Study of Democracy and Public Policy Studies, gave his center’s findings on the increasing debt our nation is acquiring each year and what we, as a nation, should do about it. With the introduction of the credit card in the mid-1950s, our country’s culture began to shift from one of saving to one of spending. As Zeeve puts it, “We became addicted to debt, and we all know you can’t live beyond your means indefinitely.” Now we are faced with a nation that is over 14 trillion dollars in debt, and counting. To put that in perspective, that would roughly be the equivalent of four years of out-of-state tuition, fees, room, and board for 100 million students. That would be 50,000 times our current student population. In 2010, the U.S. spent 1.48 trillion more dollars than it took in and with that trend showing no signs of stopping, Zeeve explained that “our increase in deficits reduces our ability to increase our national savings.” This increasing debt has led to dependence on foreign lenders; with that borrowed money comes interest which we need to pay back in addition to money borrowed. Part of the issue is that we are a progressively aging nation. As Zeeve said, “demographers agree that we have a dynamic shift to an older population and that shift is permanent.” With an aging population comes an increase in need for such government programs as social security, Medicare and Medicaid. Forty percent of our national budget is currently put towards social security, Medicare, and Medicaid. “And this is before the majority of baby boomers retire,” Zeeve added. According to the Concord Coalition’s findings, in less than fifteen years, social security, Medicare, and Medicaid plus the interest we owe to foreign lenders will consume all of our federal revenue. “This is a multi-trillion dollar shortfall that we’ve known about since the 1980s but ignored,” explained Zeeve. “For the next 25-50 years we will be reforming healthcare and we need to bring down the costs.” Even with the knowledge of our nation’s tremendous debt, the question remains: how do we solve this problem? As Zeeve sees it, “don’t discount the effect your action can have. We have to let our legislators know that it is politically safe for them to make some tough decisions.” The Concord Coalition is currently undertaking what they call “The Fiscal Wake-Up Tour,” which began as a series of public forums around the country. Now, in addition to those forums, they have organized in-depth local committees to further focus attention on our nation’s fiscal challenges. As Zeeve said on Tuesday, “there aren’t any easy answers but our current fiscal policy is unsustainable and we cannot grow our way out of the problem.” Finding a solution to our economic troubles will require bipartisan cooperation and a willingness to discuss all options. Zeeve repeatedly stressed the need for citizen involvement, especially those of our generation. He concluded, “This is your problem … you have got to think of it in very personal terms. Public engagement and understanding is vital in finding solutions.”