The Times today includes an article that might be overlooked: “Next on the Agenda for Washington: Fight Over Debt.” It notes that in the next couple of months, the United States will reach the congressionally-imposed limit on borrowing, capped at the staggering debt ceiling of $14.25 trillion (for the sake of argument, pretend it’s possible to imagine what a “trillion” is). As the article succinctly notes,
Once the limit is reached, the Treasury Department would not be able to borrow as it does routinely to finance federal operations and roll over existing debt; ultimately it would be unable to pay off maturing debt, putting the United States government — the global standard-setter for creditworthiness — into default.
The best thing about the long-term budget proposal from Paul Ryan, the Republican chairman of the House Budget Committee, is that it forces Americans to confront the implications of their choices. If voters want taxes that amount to roughly 18 percent of G.D.P., then they are going to have to accept a government that looks roughly like what Ryan is describing. The Democrats are on defense because they are unwilling to ask voters to confront the implications of their choices. Democrats seem to believe that most Americans want to preserve the 20th-century welfare state programs. But they are unwilling to ask voters to pay for them, and they are unwilling to describe the tax increases that would be required to cover their exploding future costs.
This does seem to be a fair observation of where we’re at. I’m less convinced by Brooks’ claim that “[r]aising taxes on the rich will not do it,” since I would think a graduated tax like most other North Atlantic countries could sure go a long way. But I do agree with his other point: if Obama and the Democrats want to retain programs that care for the poor and vulnerable (as they rightly do!), then we need to face another reality: the middle class need to bear the brunt of this, too. Surely we can give up a few bottles of wine a month, a few of the attractions on our vacations, a few rounds of golf for the sake of the poor.