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Rock the Debt

By Michael B. Broukhim

If youth need a reason to “rock the vote” in 2004, they should look to President Bush and Congress’ deficit-laden federal budget. In the nearly three years since the Bush administration passed its first budget, the national debt has increased by $1 trillion, and estimates for next year’s deficit alone loom at a sobering $500 billion.

Republicans—with complacent Democrats at their side—have evidently stumbled upon the golden era in politics in which the prevailing wisdom is more programs and fewer taxes. Congress is taking a loan from its kids to have its cake and eat it too. Together, a lagging economy, $350 billion in tax cuts, $400 billion in Medicare reform, and $20 billion for new schools (in Iraq), new hospitals (in Iraq), and a new energy grid (in Iraq) have made Bush a master magician of disappearing surpluses. As Baby Boomers approach retirement age in the next decade, rising costs of Medicare and Social Security exacerbate an already tenuous forecast.

The outrageous rate of spending on Capitol Hill can have disastrous consequences for America’s short and long term economic health. The Concord Coalition, the Center for Economic Development, and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities—three budget watch-groups ranging across the political spectrum—jointly held a press conference warning Americans to take action against the upcoming fiscal crisis. The groups cautioned, “the budget will remain mired in deficit throughout the next ten years…Thereafter, as Boomers retire and cash in their entitlement claims, the deficit will explode to 6 percent of GDP by 2020, 12 percent by 2030, and an economy-shattering 21 percent by 2040.” According to the projections, the total national debt will equal total gross domestic product by the late 2020s and quadruple it by 2040. While some will argue that the group’s numbers are political hyperbole, the groups warn their projections “may understate the gravity of the deficit problem—and the damage that current budget policy is inflicting on future generations.” Who’s up for another tax cut?

Goldman Sachs recently released a newsletter calling the U.S. budget “out of control.” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., confirmed the sentiment, saying in a recent Fox News interview, that Congress was spending “like a drunken sailor.” But with the 2004 elections around the corner, these voices will fall largely on deaf ears, as campaigning politicians will be hard-pressed to advocate spending cutbacks or tax increases.

It is paramount that candidates and voters—particularly young voters who have the most to lose and the longest to suffer—make fiscal responsibility a priority in the 2004 campaign. We eagerly listened to the election 2000 debates on the tantalizing prospects of a budget surplus, and today youth must make their voices heard by going to the polls to make sure candidates don’t give short shrift to the alarming deficits.

While only 17 percent of eligible 18-29 year old voters actually turned out at the polls on Election Day 2000, it is far too easy to simply write off this generation as apathetic and dispassionate. Their volunteerism indicates otherwise; a study by the National Association of Secretaries of State shows that youth community service is at record levels and rising. But a more service-oriented youth will not bring down the debt, and politicians will continue to pass the buck to youth as long as they’re not looking. It’s time that American youth learned to approach good citizenship with a will for service in one hand and a ballot in the other; their checkbooks will thank them later.

—Michael B. Broukhim is an editorial editor.

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