When Katherine Miller wrote “Donald Trump has an unusual kind of power: He reveals weakness,” she wasn’t writing about the latest Congressional budget deal, but it fits easily within her next words, “This quality he extends to all things — people, traditions, movements.”
One thing Pres. Trump campaigned upon was a distinct lack of interest in fiscal responsibility. And as I noted last May, “[i]t’s been plain for years that Republicans aren’t big on decreasing government spending outside foreign aid and welfare; but Trump made this inconvenient truth impossible to ignore.”
So here we are. And it’s an attitude not limited to Trump or Congress, or Republicans writ large. From Rush Limbaugh to Ross Douthat, the national debt is lo longer a priority because we are not standing on a fiscal precipice. Such is the allure of short-term thinking focused solely on federal finances.
Come to Illinois. Visit the Land of Lincoln and witness its deadbeat government. Come see a system so dysfunctional that after a lengthy budget deadlock, the chosen fix will likely make the problem worse. A place where the next big idea is to borrow even more and bet on the stock market, just as interest rates start increasing again.
Illinois is merely the poster child for a six trillion dollar problem of unfunded liabilities for government pensions and retiree healthcare benefits. And it’s not just deep blue states like IL, NJ, and CA near the top of the list. It’s also red states like KY, MS, LA, SC, AL, OH and the Trumpy state of WV.
The federal government has more options than the states in dealing with unfunded liabilities. They can inflate the currency, which worked sooo well to finance guns-and-butter policies in the 1970s.
But when the bill comes due for our ongoing federal binge-spending, expect voters to be every bit as intransigent as the government employees in these states have been — perhaps moreso, as the larger bloc will have more clout. It’s also entirely possible that the unpopular policies adopted to fix problems with states and localities will operate as de facto political constraints on federal solutions.
Of course, the folks spending your money and your kids’ money and your grandkids’ money today will likely be long gone when that bill comes due, just as they are in Illinois. And they’re just doing the current voter pool’s bidding. It is an extravagant display of weakness by all involved. The Trump era has merely made it difficult to avert the eyes. But not impossible!
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