One hot summer day when I was a child, no more than 9 or 10, I had an encounter with a carnival worker at the county fair. The carnie was working a dart game. If you broke a balloon, you won the prize revealed behind it — usually a paper lei or some other trinket.
The cost at the time was a dime for three darts. I put down a dime, missed all three, and put down another dime. Missed again. This time, the carnie said, “Here, I’ll give you five darts.”
My luck was no better. Then the carnie gave me seven. No luck. Then he gave me 10. Caught up in trying to win something, I tried repeatedly with no success.
And then it hit me. He had been giving me more and more darts, but I hadn’t paid for any after the first couple of times. I asked him, “How much do I owe?”
He said, “How much do you have?”
I only had a dollar, and I told him so.
After making a mental calculation, he said, “That’ll be 90 cents.”
That left me with a dime (enough for a sno-cone then), to last the rest of the afternoon, while my friends went on rides, played other games and had several treats. It was a hot day, and it didn’t end soon enough.
I’ve never forgotten that carnie, and was reminded of him as I have been following the antics of our elected leaders in Washington. To me, they are playing the same game as the carnie. “Here,” they say, “I’ll give you free prescription drugs for senior citizens.”
We say, “Thank you very much,” and think how generous they are, re-electing them.
Then they say, “Here, we’ll provide a new health plan to lower the percentage of uninsured.”
We say, “Thank you very much,” and re-elect them.
Then, after reaching an agreement a year and a half ago not to do anything about the mushrooming federal debt until after the 2012 election, they looked at their 17-month-old agreement and said, “We won’t let your taxes go up $2,000-plus per middle class family,” and they extended the once maligned Bush tax cuts for everybody except those making over $400,000.
We say, “Thank you very much. I can’t afford the extra $2 grand.”
Our elected carnies just keep giving us free stuff and pretending that if the rich cover the cost of 6 percent of the annual deficits being racked up, nobody has to pay the remainder.
And for our part, if anybody tries to make us pay for all this stuff, we’d throw them out of office in a heartbeat. The Urban Institute did a study and determined that the average-income Medicare recipient retiring in 2011 pays $110,000 less if male and $128,000 less if female than he or she receives back in health care benefits.
If they formed a line of everybody who doesn’t like getting more than $110,000 of “free” health care, it would be mighty short.
By 2030, the “free” Medicare benefit for retirees will be $164,000 for males and $188,000 for females — in today’s dollars.
The ticking time bomb that is our national debt is increasingly being held by foreigners. We now pay $220 billion annually in debt interest. Democrats are fighting to maintain government spending and increase taxes only on the wealthy. Republicans are fighting to cut government spending and hold taxes steady for all. So instead of cutting spending and increasing taxes, as the original “fiscal cliff” agreement would have done, they raised taxes on the wealthy alone and actually increased spending by $76 billion, sending pork to various special interests like NASCAR track owners, rum distillers and Hollywood producers, etc..
I keep thinking about that carnie when he asked, “How much money do you have?” He only took 90 cents.
The next crisis over the federal debt ceiling is less than two months away. We have only two possible outcomes. We will either renege on the federal debt we all owe by refusing to raise the ceiling, which will bring all of the deficit spending to a screeching halt — forcing huge cuts in Social Security, Medicare, national defense, etc., and making us hate those Republicans who demanded fiscal sanity — or we will continue to take more darts from the elected carnies until the holders of our debt realize we only have a buck but owe $1.10, and stop lending to us because they realize we can’t pay it back.
Plan B may take a little longer, and the repercussions will be more severe, but the Democrats will get more of the blame.
Several months ago, Sen. Al Franken told the ECM Editorial Board that the nation is facing a fiscal “slope,” not a “cliff.” He was correct in that the effects would not have been a free fall followed by a sudden stop if we had gone over the “cliff.” However, as the debt keeps rising, the “slope” gets steeper.
I don’t wish anybody hardship, and you can call me crazy (after all, former DNC Chair and presidential candidate Howard Dean had the same position), but I was hoping no new deal would be reached.
I don’t think most people can afford an extra $2,000 in taxes, but the only way to sustain all the programs that the majority said they wanted in the last election (based on who they elected) is to raise taxes on everybody — especially the middle class — substantially.
We can tax the wealthy at 100 percent, and it still wouldn’t be enough. Maybe if we tried to pay for all the government we say we want, we’d decide how much we can afford.
If we continue to ignore the national debt like 10-year-olds, by the time the game being played by our elected carnies ends, we won’t even have enough left for a sno-cone.
Tom West is the editor and general manager of the Record. He may be reached at (320) 632-2345 or by e-mail at [email protected].