All eyes are on the federal budget in the short term, and the federal deficit in the long term—or at least that’s where they should be focused.
Since last November when the Democrats got the now infamous “shellacking” at the polls, the rhetoric has focused on “working together,” the need for “bipartisanship” and “reaching across the aisle.” The evidence has been lacking, however. Oh sure, there was the cozy exchange of bipartisan seating during President Obama’s State of the Union address, but as expected, that cooperative spirit fizzled shortly thereafter.
This week’s release of the president’s proposed $3.7 trillion, 2012 federal budget unleashed the predictable bickering with Republicans and Democrats embracing their familiar talking points.
Our elected officials swear they’re committed to tackling our growing national debt, which now stands at about $14.3 trillion dollars. They like to tell us that America and Americans must be part of the fix and share the “sacrifices.” I happen to agree—everyone needs to get serious and be committed. Everything should be on the table, but that effort also needs to include productive, cooperative dialogue.
Along with our whopping debt, America is rapidly approaching the national debt ceiling-- a point where the government runs out of borrowing power. Previously, Congress placed a limit on how high our debt can go, which may seem like a good idea at the time. But, we’re closing in on that point, and that means the government may have to shut down. So, that would present yet another daunting crisis.
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner sent a letter to Congress early last month outlining some dire economic consequences if they failed to increase the debt ceiling. “Even a very short-term of limited default would have catastrophic economic consequences that would last for decades,” Geithner wrote.
People like to point to government and say, “we have to live within a budget, the government should follow suit.” Okay, but do American’s really live within a budget? We’ve seen all too clearly over the past couple of years how good, or sincere, Americans are at living within a budget. What’s more, who is really going to be willing to tighten their belts and let the government squeeze or eliminate programs that affect them?
Of course, it’s unfathomable to try to grasp the federal budget and the nation debt ceiling. So, what does $1 trillion even look like? You can view an example here.
My colleague, Greg Henderson, editor of Drovers/CattleNetwork provided me with an example. So, for illustrative purposes, let’s try this: A packet of 100 $100 bills is $10,000, and can fit in your pocket. Stack enough of those packets to cover a pallet and you would have $100 million dollars. Ten of those pallets covered with stacks of $100 bills equal $1 billion. Now cover an area about the size of a football field with those pallets– stacked two high– and you would have $1 trillion dollars. Take a minute to visual that.
This is serious stuff, and in no way easy. Still, Americans as a whole are vastly better off then citizens in any number of other countries. While there are increasingly fewer people around to tell us what it was like during the Great Depression, there is no shortage of books and other references. The take-home point is— we need to make some serious changes.
We need Congress, lobbyists and individuals to work on solutions and be willing to share in the new reality. That means agriculture as well. I understand all too well that agriculture is constantly battled on all sides, day in and day out, and with just 2 percent of the population involved in agriculture we’re in an extreme minority. But we’ll need to practice some give and take, which means selecting the most important and effective programs.
One of my current pet peeves is when people point to efforts to shave a million dollars here or a billion dollars there and say, “Well, that doesn’t amount to much.” Perhaps not alone, but we have to start adding up all those tidbits at some point. Isn’t that what we tell people who need to get household expenses under control? You have to cut out that daily cup of coffee or pack a sack lunch?
We have to start somewhere, and don’t get me started on tax cuts for the top 2 percent wage earners. This is serious stuff, and we all need to make sacrifices.