In last week’s email to constituents, our congressman, Rep. Tom Reed, complained about the national debt again. Reed pointed to a recent Congressional Budget Office report, The Budget and Economic Outlook: 2014-2024, which projects that annual interest on the national debt will total $880 billion by 2024, or about 18 per cent of government revenues.
This level of debt service is indeed a problem. Even today, with interest payments at 8 percent of revenues, our country is unable to make vitally needed investments in infrastructure, innovation, and education. With interest payments at 18 per cent — in addition to necessary spending on Medicare, Social Security, and national defense — funds would simply not be available for fighting climate change, maintaining America’s position as a technology leader, or building 21st century networks of transportation and communication.
We came to this position thanks largely to the Tea Party’s domination of the Republican party in the House of Representatives. The irresponsible and supposedly temporary Bush era tax cuts account for much of the shortfall in revenue, but Republicans insisted that they be made permanent for all but the very rich as part of the 2012 deal to avert the “fiscal cliff.” As long as Republicans control the House, we can forget about correcting tax dodges like those that allow rich hedge fund managers to avoid paying income taxes or permit mega-corporations to park their profits offshore tax havens. Thursday’s New York Times calls for “greater sacrifice from the rich to bring in desperately needed revenue for rebuilding the country and improving education.” This will not happen while Republicans control the House.
Rep. Reed and the Tea Party would reduce debt service as a proportion of federal revenues by cutting programs that help the poor, working families, and the middle class, notably SNAP, Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare. A better answer for our children and grandchildren would be to increase revenues by encouraging economic growth and asking the rich to pay their fair share. To get to this answer, we need a House of Representatives controlled by Democrats. Voters in New York’s 23rd can help achieve this goal by electing Martha Robertson in November.