To the editor:
As a young American whose generation is on the hook for today's mounting national debt, I appreciate Rep. Tom Marino's concern over the unsustainable path of our federal budget ("Time to live within our means," Feb. 27). However, our leaders must acknowledge the true size of the problem, be honest about the necessary solutions and work with the other party to enact them. Rep. Marino fails on all three accounts.
Our nation's indebtedness is not $17 trillion, as the Congressman claimed. Politicians don't like to mention that they have also overpromised and underfunded a range of health and retirement benefits. When you add these future obligations to the amount of money we've already borrowed, our true debt exceeds $200 trillion.
As co-founder of a budget reform organization, I helped draft and get introduced a bill in both houses of Congress that would force the government to disclose this and other fiscal facts. Over 1,000 economists have endorsed this bipartisan legislation, known as the INFORM Act, because starting with the right facts will help separate meaningful solutions from political mush.
For example, Rep. Marino claimed we can balance the budget by "eliminating duplicative and wasteful government spending, ensuring that taxes remain low for our nation's job creators, significantly downsizing the federal government, and eliminating burdensome regulations to provide economic certainty." This all sounds good (that's the point), but either Rep. Marino does not understand the federal budget, or he does not want you to.
First, in the short term, our country does not need a balanced budget. The kind of austerity measures required to do so would further damage our fragile economic recovery. In fact, now is the time we should be making additional high value investments in things like infrastructure, education and research in order to help grow our economy.
Second, over the long term, the true drivers of the deficit are Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid - as health care costs increase and our population grows older. Spending on every other part of the budget, relative to our economy, will shrink in the years ahead. Unless we reform these entitlement programs (and even if we got rid of every penny of waste, fraud and abuse in the budget) our deficits will continue to rise indefinitely.
Third, eliminating our $200 trillion fiscal gap through spending cuts alone would require a permanent 36-percent across-the-board cut to every government program, from national defense to Social Security. No American would support it. That's why additional revenue must be on the table through comprehensive, pro-growth tax reform. This way, we can scale back many tax preferences, which disproportionately benefit the well-off and well-connected, while lowering marginal tax rates for everyone.
Rather than find common ground with the other party on tax and entitlement reform to actually deal with our debt, Rep. Marino has become a champion of the ideological bouts of budget brinksmanship in Washington, including last fall's embarrassing government shutdown, which has accomplished virtually nothing to address the underlying problem. In fact, this approach has not only cost us tens of billions of dollars through lost productivity and economic uncertainty, it has also cost us years of precious time - as the burden on young and future Americans only grows larger.
I do agree with one thing Rep. Marino wrote: "Washington is fundamentally broken." Unfortunately, the Congressman's empty rhetoric and lackluster results demonstrate why.
Editor's note: Nick Troiano is a resident of Milford, Pa., and is a potential citizen-funded, independent candidate for Congress in Pennsylvania's 10th Congressional District (www.NickTroiano.com).