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Nation's debt belongs to all

| November 14, 2010 8:00 PM

Our country is a little bit like the married couple who borrow themselves into big trouble.

Junior needs braces and the parents put $5,000 on a credit card. Tired of paying for constant auto repairs, they go out and buy a new car, inheriting a $400 a month payment for the next five or six years. They use credit cards for Christmas when cash is scarce; they borrow from a finance company at 21 percent interest when they can't otherwise afford the vacation they agree they need and deserve.

Next stop: A stern and wise financial adviser or bankruptcy court.

In our nation's case, it's the financial adviser. Last week President Obama's deficit commission released its recommendations to a populace that gasped first and largely grumbled after. The commission, a bipartisan panel of 18 who have worked feverishly for months trying to figure out how to get $1 trillion-plus deficits under control, suggest putting part of the onus squarely on the federal government's back. We heartily second that emotion.

As Sen. Mike Crapo told this newspaper's editorial board recently, in the first half of President Obama's administration, the federal government's budget has grown 21.4 percent. We acknowledge that a hefty chunk of that increase is bailouts, extended unemployment benefits and other costly efforts to keep the country from falling off the recession's cliff into full-fledged fiscal catastrophe. But trimming the girth of the federal government should be a starting point for this discussion, with no sacred cows left mooing under the table. Beloved programs like Medicare and Social Security must be scrutinized. Farm subsidies, foreign aid and defense spending must pass through the same fine filters.

While federal spending should be the starting point of getting our nation's spending under control, it mustn't end there. After all, much of that spending occurs because of the demands of citizens. Just days before the panel's recommendations were made public, Idaho's senators requested $818 million in 213 earmarks for their state. They did it because their constituents demanded it. If earmarks are eliminated, folks, we're going to have to better fend for ourselves.

And that's the way it should be. Because we all had shovels of various sizes digging this hole, we all must work to level the budget again. As the political battles on these recommendations are just beginning, we can all prepare by agreeing that each of us must bear some of the pain.

Who wants to lose the mortgage interest or child tax credits? Who wants to work longer and reap fewer retirement benefits? Who wants to pay 15 cents more for every gallon of gas? That's right: Nobody.

One more question: Who wants to leave our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren with a debt so massive and so undeserved that they, and our great country, will be paralyzed? We hope the answer again is nobody.

Numbing

numbers

• 37 cents: How much the government borrows of every dollar it spends on the deficit

• $300 billion: Amount of deficit in 2015 even if all recommendations of deficit reduction panel are implemented

• $400 billion: Amount of 2015 deficit if Social Security changes are dropped

• $13.7 trillion: Amount of U.S. deficit today

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