The papers are full of the story. So full it's become one of those dreaded clichés. You can almost hear television channels being switched and radio stations clicked all across the land as the deadly phrase is heard again and again: Fiscal Cliff.
What is this fiscal cliff, exactly? It's something that'll either cost millions of jobs and plunge the country back into recession or it's all just political gamesmanship on the part of the big two competing political parties. (Why can't it be both?)
The all-too-conventional wisdom is that employers and taxpayers and investors and politicians and all the rest of us would get through this together if the president and his critics could just forge a compromise. A compromise that would avoid automatic tax hikes and spending cuts as of Jan. 1, 2013. A date that is almost upon us.
But for now it's all the rage to rage about this issue and obsession. At least as long as the TV cameras are on.
So let's debate.
As the nation argues whether to tax the "rich" or everybody, or cut only military spending or all kinds, or whether to let Congress raise the debt limit or just give the president an unlimited credit card, it might help to clarify matters -- much as the sight of an 18-wheeler coming right at you in traffic will concentrate the faculties -- if we all kept one not so little thing in mind:
The federal government's spending is out of control. And has been for much too long.
Both the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post put the national debt in (very large) figures. Their estimates may differ slightly, but both estimates are close enough to the frightening truth for government work.
The federal government is collecting more taxes this year than last. A lot more. And last year, the feds collected more than the year before. According to the feds' own numbers, the tax man got $2.4 trillion in 2012, $2.3 trillion in 2011, and $2.1 trillion in 2010.
Tax revenues took a hit when the Great Recession hit in 2009, but each year after that, as the economy began its slow -- painfully slow -- recovery, revenue began to rise. First it was a trickle, now it's more like a flood. Two point-four trillion dollars is a deluge.
Even the "point-four" of a trillion is a lot of money. To put it in sophisticated economic terms, the government is raking in the dough.
And still Washington spends more than it takes in. A lot more. According to its own figures, the federal government spent $2.7 trillion in 2007. Which, by Uncle Sam's standards, wasn't much more than the $2.56 trillion it took in that year. How much is Washington going to spend this year? More than $3.5 trillion.
In 2007, $2.7 trillion.
In 2012, $3.5 trillion.
That's about a 30-percent increase in government spending over five years. All the while, revenue was going up, up, up. But it just couldn't keep up. The water hose is running full blast to fill the kiddie pool out back, but there's a bottomless hole in it. And the spenders are yelling for still more water.
Somebody better get a really big plug.
Easily bluffed, the Republicans in the House already seem to be caving on more "revenues," today's euphemism for more taxes. But the problem of the federal debt isn't going to be fixed with more taxes. The problem is more and more spending.
Until that fire hose is turned off, the country will continue to drown in debt.
- Arkansas Democrat-Gazette