Once again, the nation returns to trillion-dollar budget busters.
ACCORDING TO FORMER Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, during a conversation in which he was trying to raise a warning flag about the ballooning of the federal budget deficit, then-Vice President Dick Cheney cut him off, saying, "Paul, (President) Reagan proved deficits don't matter. We won the midterms."
That same year, 2002, matters because the United States was coming off the only period in decades the federal government had kept revenues and expenses relatively in balance, in the closing years of the Clinton administration and the beginning of the George W. Bush administration. Then, post-Sept. 11 and following a round of deep tax cuts, the deficit returned and reached an unheard-of $458 billion by 2008. And with the banking crisis and near-economic meltdown that occurred in Bush's last year of 2008 deficits exploded with heightened federal bailouts and economic interventions, to $1.4 trillion in 2009, President Obama's first year.
As the crisis eased deficits began to gradually decline, to $1.29 trillion in 2011 to $438 billion in 2015. Then the deficit began to climb again, from $585 billion in President Obama's last year of 2016 to $779 billion in 2018 under President Trump, to a forecast for the next fiscal year of returning again to trillion-dollar plus shortfalls. The deficit estimate for 2020 is $1.1 trillion.
SO, WAS CHENEY right and deficits simply don't matter?
The conventional wisdom, politically, is that deficits do not matter to liberals who just want to tax and spend, but do matter to conservatives, who believe in pay-as-you-go.
Conventional wisdom - as is often the case - is demonstrably wrong.
Because facts matter.
Under both Democrat and Republican administrations the federal government has engaged in routine tax and spend policies, without much regard for whether there's money in the treasury to cover the freight. Here and there, when the red ink has reached tsunami levels, a token year or two of restraint may be exercised.
Then it's back to spending as usual under Republicans and Democrats, without any real regard for which party is in charge. The only real difference is who gets the goodies. The parties have different priorities when it comes to spreading the benefits, but overspending is purely bipartisan.
BOTH PARTIES' ideological assumptions are flawed and the annual deficit numbers prove it.
Democrats' idea of spending more on services and education to juice the economy did not produce revenues to tame the deficit tiger.
Likewise, Republicans' idea of tax cuts going mostly to the top did not result in growing the country's way out of upside-down budgets.
Clearly, President Trump has not solved the deficit and debt problem, with the numbers going the wrong way on his watch.
Just as clearly, Democrats promising free college tuition and forgiveness of college debts and Medicare for all are more likely to add to deficits than reduce them.
But does it matter?
Consider: As of June 2019 the aggregate federal debt was $22.03 trillion. The federal debt, as of 2018, handed every man, woman and child in America an obligation of $65,600 - a number getting bigger every day.
NOW, IT'S NOT LIKELY the Internal Revenue Service is going to knock on the door tomorrow where your family of four lives and demand you fork over $262,400 in cash.
But you get the point. Nothing is free. Eventually, debts come due.
So who gets stuck with the bill? You? Your kids? Your grandkids? Their kids?
And how big will it be by then?
The point is that deficits and debt must matter. And every day the political class - read: both parties - pretends otherwise is like aiming an economic weapon at generations to come.
The dictionary defines selfish as: "... lacking consideration for others; concerned chiefly with one's own personal profit or pleasure."
Sounds about right.