WASHINGTON, D.C., Feb.12, 2013 — In just one television appearance, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) managed to remind the nation that ideological intransigence is not unique to the Republican Party. There are Democratic ideologues as well.
In an interview on “Fox News Sunday” with Chris Wallace, Pelosi said “it is almost a false argument to suggest that we have a spending problem. We have a budget deficit problem that we have to address.” Well, yes, America does have a deficit problem. But isn’t that because the government continues to spend more money than it receives in revenue?
It is unclear if this fiscal denialism is a case of delusion or dishonesty. Either way, Pelosi is wrong. America has a serious spending problem, and young people should pay attention to it.
Pelosi also went on to say: “The challenge in Medicare is not Medicare. The challenge is rising medical health care costs in general. …I think that there is money to be saved there and I don’t think it has to come out of benefits for beneficiaries and I don’t think you have to raise the [retirement] age.”
During the fiscal cliff negotiations, Democrats successfully portrayed Republicans as ideologues. The party that was willing to go off the fiscal cliff just to protect tax rates for the one percent.
If Democrats continue to take a hardline approach to Medicare, and refuse to acknowledge that federal spending needs to be curtailed, they run the risk of being the party that is out of touch, and willing to jeopardize the future retirement benefits of the young in order to secure benefits for the elderly.
The first step to solving a problem is to recognize that the problem exists. The spending problem in America is real. The Republican talking point that “Washington does not have a revenue problem, it has a spending problem” is true.
The national debt is over $16 trillion. From 2008-2013, discretionary spending went from $933 to $1.062 trillion—an increase of 14 percent. Domestic programs grew by 16.6 percent. This year, federal spending will reach $3.6 trillion and rise to nearly $6 trillion by 2023. At that pace, government spending will reach 23 percent of GDP by 2023, far higher than the 20 percent historical level according to the Congressional Budget Office.
This should be of great concern to young Americans.
College-age Americans and young twenty-something-year-olds care about many things. They want jobs; they want more access to student loans and grants. They are passionate about gay marriage, many of them believe in a woman’s right to choose, they want to see young undocumented immigrants (DREAMers) become U.S citizens. They would like to see something done on climate change.
When it comes to the issue of debt and deficits however, young people seem disinterested. A $16 trillion national debt seems too abstract to conceptualize. Its consequences are unclear to them or too far into the future to warrant any sense of urgency.
But they should understand that politicians in Washington are stealing their futures.
Medicare and Social Security may not be there for the younger generation if politicians on both sides of the aisle continue to demagogue entitlements out of fear of the AARP (American Association of Retired Persons). Young voters should understand that their parents’ generation is leaving a mountain of debt behind.
They should be concerned that an escalating national debt means high interest rates in the future. When interest rates go up, everything from mortgage payments to car loans, to credit card payments and student loan rates will rise. Cost of living will increase. Taxes will go up. The economy will be slower, and the job market will be weaker.
Young people are already getting hit by high unemployment, if they are lucky enough to find good jobs in the future, they will have to work longer to pay off their student loans, and wait longer to buy their first house or open their first retirement account.
The young twenty-something-year-olds should be concerned about all of this. They should be worried that some politicians deny America’s spending problem. They should be weary of economists like Paul Krugman who argue that it is “irresponsible and destructive” not to kick-the-can-down-the-road on the national debt. Finally, they should organize and mobilize themselves to put pressure on their elected officials to solve the long-term debt.
Their future is at stake.
Ayobami Olugbemiga is a graduate student in George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management.
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