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What Iowans May Not Know
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By ScottBittle on January 3rd, 2008
It's all Iowa, all the time, on cable news today as the first real voting of the presidential primary season begins. Iowans will have survived months of listening to presidential candidates talk about what they'll do if elected. And that's a major function of elections -- setting priorities for the nation.
But for all the talk of bold new futures, it's a fundamental fact that very little gets done in this world without money. And one of the most insidious qualities of our long-term fiscal problems is that they will very slowly, almost imperceptably, rob both the public and our leaders of their ability to set priorities. In the short term, we have wiggle room; we can get away with a federal budget that avoids hard choices.
But Medicare, Social Security and other "mandatory" spending is already more than 60 percent of the budget, and relentlessly crowding out the "discretionary" spending that covers much of what people want from their government. if nothing is done, by 2040 the federal government won't have enough money to do anything other than cover Medicare, Social Security and interest on the national debt. Good luck setting some different priorities then.
Right now our fiscal priorities are being set by default and everybody in Washington knows that it can't go on. But nobody's letting the voters in on that open secret. Our political leaders can change those default settings -- in fact the next president will probably have no choice but to try to do so. But you wouldn't know it by the rhetoric on the campaign trail.
Over the next few weeks, American voters are going to winnow down all those presidential candidates down to two. At some point, I hope they're going to hear some honest talk about the nation's fiscal problems. Because you can't judge all this talk of priorities without understanding where the money is -- and where it's going to go if nothing is done.
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»A new report finds the main problem in getting the public to deal with our fiscal problems isn't opposition to tax increases or spending cuts -- it's their lack of trust in the government to spend their money wisely.