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Unserious Washington

Published: Thursday, Sept. 26, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

Congress and the White House are gearing up for their latest epic battle – over funding the federal government for another 10 weeks. Meanwhile, their fiscal policies have put the United States on a long-term path of increasing debt, rising interest rates, needlessly crimped growth and fewer and fewer dollars for many of the programs Americans care most about.

That's not the picture the White House generally paints. President Obama and his team talk as if they've gotten the deficit more or less under control, because the short-term trend has brightened. The federal debt, having soared from 39 percent of the gross domestic product at the end of 2008 to 73 percent this year, is on track to decline to 68 percent by 2018. Thereafter, though, it will begin to rise again, reaching 100 percent of GDP 20 years later. Only one other time in U.S. history has debt exceeded 70 percent of the national economy – around the end of World War II.

These estimates come from the scrupulously nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, and they actually underestimate the danger. This is the rosy scenario. That's because the CBO takes Congress at its word that it is going to reduce discretionary spending.

"The unsustainable nature of the federal government's current tax and spending policies presents lawmakers and the public with difficult choices," the CBO concludes.

Mr. Obama ran for president promising to make such difficult choices. Lawmakers such as House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., have made similar boasts.

Instead they are facing the unthinkable prospect of shutting down the government as they squabble over the inconsequential accomplishment of a 10-week funding extension. It isn't serious, but it certainly isn't funny.

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