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Tom Crouser: Our most serious problem is being ignored (Opinion)

If the Democratic debates have done one thing, they’ve recognized problems. And some candidates, to their credit, have identified sources of income (taxes) to pay for solutions. They also recommend the tax cuts of 2017 be reversed.

But the biggest unaddressed and underlying problem is that government already spends $1 trillion more each year than it takes in and it will take more than reversing the tax cuts to change. Here are some costs of proposals and a possible result if we don’t address our deficit.

“Medicare for all” has been proposed by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and others. Today, Medicare costs $800 billion. This would increase to between $2.76 trillion and $3.87 trillion, depending on the estimate. Sanders has proposed how he’d pay for it, but it does nothing to cure the underlying deficit.

Infrastructure is another unaddressed problem. In 2017, the American Society of Civil Engineers said we need an additional $206 billion a year for 10 years to be globally competitive.

Free college tuition would cost $70 billion per year in federal and state funds. Sanders has a tax plan to pay for it, but doesn’t address our ongoing loss.

Others propose eliminating all outstanding student loans. Popular, but costly. The payout would require $1.6 trillion, according to Nerd Wallet.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., have proposed fighting the opioid epidemic with $100 billion over 10 years. Very worthy, and both have proposals to pay the costs, but nothing for the deficit.

Now, for those of you who think I’m just using the, “Yeah, but how are we going to pay for it” defense, standby while I chastise Republicans.

What have we done? We cut taxes and increased federal government losses. Our national debt topped $22 trillion for the first time this year, up $2 trillion since President Donald Trump took office.

Oh, I know the standard reply. Cut taxes and the economy will grow and the cuts will pay for themselves. Well, they haven’t. It’s like we’re refinancing our house every year and are using the cash for trips to Disneyland.

And yes, the debt increased under President Barack Obama (average $0.93 trillion a year), but now it’s increasing at a higher rate ($1.0 trillion a year).

Don’t get me wrong. GDP is up, unemployment is down, and there’s not too much inflation or deflation. But payments on our mortgage increase every year and we have little to no savings. What will happen when we face a real emergency?

So, back to everyone: How do we pay for this? And when?

After all, if we can’t pay for the government we consume now, while we’re in a growing economy, when will we? When we’re in a recession? Depression?

We must prioritize our wants and needs, and then spend less than we collect.

Why?

Greece.

Greece was doing the same thing, spending more than it was taking in, until the global financial crisis of 2007-08 hit, which wasn’t their fault. That crisis was caused by the U.S. sub-prime mortgage crisis and speculation by U.S. investment banks. But Greece piled up debt in good times.

Their critical debt-to-GDP ratio (like a ratio of a family’s mortgage to income) stood at 109.4 percent in 2008. It shot up to 172.1 percent by 2011 as their income dropped.

It’s always a one-two punch that gets you, and punch one is always having little money. Then, something else happens.

In February 2012, because of required austerity, 20,000 Greeks were made homeless and 20 percent of shops in Athens’ city center closed. About 20 percent of Greeks lacked enough money to eat. Isolation, depression, suicide and addiction grew.

In 2017, we had a debt-to-GDP ratio of 105.4 percent, compared to Greece’s 109.4 percent in 2008. And ours is increasing at a higher rate. Ours was 31 percent in 1975.

Democrats are focused on solving new problems. Republican propose additional tax cuts. Neither will reduce our government debt.

So, what else you got?

Tom Crouser is a business consultant living in Mink Shoals and a Gazette-Mail contributing columnist. Reach him at tom@crouser.com or follow @TomCrouser on Twitter.

Funerals for Monday, September 16, 2019

Campbell, James - 2 p.m., St. Anthony Catholic Church, Charleston.

Chaney, Doris - 6 p.m., Ridenour Lake Gazebo, Nitro.

Conger, Jacqueline - 2 p.m., Roush Funeral Home, Ravenswood.

Daugherty, Roy - Noon, Deal Funeral Home, Point Pleasant. 

De Roo, Mary - 11 a.m., Blessed Sacrament Church, South Charleston.

Garrett, Barbara - 1 p.m., Grace Episcopal Church, Ravenswood.

Jennings, Betty - 4 p.m., Chapman Funeral Home, Hurricane.

Legg, Phyllis - 1 p.m., Bell Creek Missionary Baptist Church, Dixie.

Lyons, Ronald - 1 p.m., Bartlett - Nichols Funeral Home, St. Albans.

Parsons, Joan - 2 p.m., Keller Funeral Home, Dunbar.

Persinger, Patsy - 1 p.m., White Funeral Home, Summersville.

Petry, Jo Ann - Noon, Cunningham - Parker - Johnson Funeral Home, Charleston.

Stirling Sr., Robert - 1 p.m., Stump Funeral Home & Cremation Inc., Grantsville.

Waldron, James - 1 p.m., Curry Funeral Home, Alum Creek.

Woodard-Thomas, Carolyn - 1 p.m., West Virginia Memorial Gardens, Calvin.