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New Documentary: a Testimony to Washington Prodigality « The Washington Independent

It’s not often that prominent senators go out of their way to promote the latest movie release. Then again, it’s not often that anyone makes a movie about the federal budget crisis.

I.O.U.S.A., set for release nationwide Thursday, is such a film, and while it won’t star Heath Ledger, it does promise a tale of excess that many consider villainous.

Consider a few facts: The country, currently more than $9 trillion in debt, faces a deficit approaching $500 billion next year. Entitlement spending (ie, that over which Congress has no control) consumes 62 percent of the annual budget — up from 38 percent in 1966 — and it’s rising. Medicare alone is expected to grow at three times the rate of the rest of the economy over the next 25 years. And this does nothing to mention the cost of a no-end-in-sight war on terror that will certainly run into the trillions.

Sen. Judd Gregg (N.H.), the top-ranked Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, is using the release of I.O.U.S.A. to highlight the looming crisis. From a statement issued Tuesday:

The big problems facing our nation’s future hit the big screen this week, but unlike other summer blockbusters, this drama is real. The fiscal tsunami is gaining momentum and threatens to drown our nation’s economy.

Debt is growing to incomprehensible levels and this scenario does not make for a happy ending, especially if we continue to allow our three largest entitlement programs — Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security — to grow unchecked.

The coming budget debates will be interesting. Republicans, no doubt, will blame Democrats for wasting taxpayer dollars on socialized medicine and abortions for illegal immigrants. Yet a vast majority of this debt was amassed under the three GOP presidents occupying the White House since 1980, beginning, of course, with Ronald Reagan. As The Washington Post’s Jonathan Weisman pointed out during the commotion surrounding Reagan’s death in 2004:

The fiscal shift in the Reagan years was staggering. In January 1981, when Reagan declared the federal budget to be “out of control,” the deficit had reached almost $74 billion, the federal debt $930 billion. Within two years, the deficit was $208 billion. The debt by 1988 totaled $2.6 trillion. In those eight years, the United States moved from being the world’s largest international creditor to the largest debtor nation.

Similarly, when the second Bush was elected in 2000, the debt was roughly $5.6 trillion. When he leaves office in January, the figure will be roughly $4 trillion higher. (Under eight years of Clinton, by contrast, the debt jumped about $1.6 trillion. As a percentage of GDP, it actually fell.)

“The War on Terror is being waged to protect America’s security,” Gregg said. “We need a war on debt that will do the same.”

Indeed. First, though, we need an administration attuned to the notion that deficits, in fact, matter.

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