Politicians in Washington often like to talk about their “children and grandchildren” more than they listen to them. If not, our country would not be in $17 trillion of debt and sinking deeper. That is why I recently represented Utah at Capitol Hill, as part of the millennial-led “The Can Kicks Back” campaign, to meet with my elected officials and their staffs in person. My main emphasis: we need a bold and generationally balanced fix to our national debt.
Our message is starting to get through. Senators John Thune (R–S.D.) and Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Representatives Aaron Schock (R-IL) and Jim Cooper (D-TN) recently introduced the INFORM Act based on a policy proposal by The Can Kicks Back. This legislation would incorporate two proven tools, generational accounting and fiscal gap analysis, into the budgeting process in order to show the impact of fiscal policy on young people and future generations.
The INFORM Act will confirm what many close observers already know to be true:
First, our nation’s fiscal imbalance is much larger than official government debt. There are trillions of dollars of obligations owed to current and future retirees through programs like Social Security and Medicare that are held off of the government’s balance sheet. Politicians have underfunded and over promised these benefits, leading to an unsustainable fiscal path. By some estimates, our long-term fiscal gap is 19 times larger than current public U.S. debt – some $222 trillion.
Second, young people and future generations will foot the bill for our budget imbalance. All living adults today are projected to receive more in direct benefits back from government that they will have paid in taxes. In the Medicare program alone, the average retiree will receive three dollars back for every dollar her or she paid in. These intergenerational transfers are growing larger as government spends more entitlement programs with the retirement of the Baby Boomers and less on crucial investments in our future.
Third, the longer we wait to solve our fiscal problems, the larger the burden young people will be forced to bear. The longer we wait to make adjustments to retirement programs, the fewer Americans alive today who are near or in retirement will share in the necessary sacrifice. For example, if we wait until the program’s Social Security trust fund runs dry in 2033, the necessary tax increase would be 4.1 percent,according to the Trustees.
The best (and perhaps most enjoyable) option: we could all have more children, increasing the United States population and passing the buck to each subsequent generation – it would never need to be accounted for. Unfortunately, we’re headed in the opposite direction, with citizen count expected to peak and then decline continuously starting in 2040. Consequently, politics ensue in the quest for reversing the debt.
Leaders in Washington must face these fiscal facts – not keep kicking the can. We need a federal budget that is both fiscally sustainable and generationally equitable – meaning a budget that, over the long-term, spends only as much as it takes in and does so in a way that each generation pays its own bills.
Rhett Wilkinson is a senior at Utah State University and member of The Can Kicks Back (www.thecankicksback.org), a millennial movement to defeat the national debt and the millennial outreach partner of The Campaign to Fix the Debt.
- News from 2010 … America is bankrupt (jng1234.wordpress.com)
- Detroit Today, Washington Tomorrow (pbs.org)
- Study: U.s. Debt Obligations $70 Trillion… (breitbart.com)
- Fix the Debt Applauds Introduction of the INFORM Act (prweb.com)
- Study: U.S. Debt Six Times Greater Than Declared (infiniteunknown.net)
- US debt six times greater than declared – study (fromthetrenchesworldreport.com)