Congress must truly tackle debt and budget

The default disaster has been delayed. Now, Congress and the White House can focus on immigration reform, a farm bill – oh, yeah, and a budget.

Our nation is in this fiscal predicament because Washington operates with a different set of rules than other governmental entities. That’s why you never have heard the following:

“We’ll have to lay off firefighters and police officers unless the city council raises the debt ceiling.”

“Without an extension in the debt limit, we’ll have to curtail road patrols in order to maintain adequate jail staffing.”

“The increase in allowable debt will enable us to avoid faculty and staff cutbacks during the next nine-week period.”

“Maintenance and repair work on township highways and bridges can resume now that we have extended our borrowing authority.”

Township trustees do it. School board members do it. County boards do it. City and village councils do it. Can Congress plan to spend less than expected revenues?

The math is simple. The politics are difficult. Obligations of social programs, as structured at present, mean something has to give.

And it’s not just a matter of balancing future budgets. That still would leave the sizable debt.

But balancing the budget and starting to pay down the debt would not resolve federal funding issue, either. Medicare and Social Security on unsustainable trajectories.

Last spring, trustees for the Medicare program said its hospital insurance fund would run dry in 13 years. Social Security’s reserves, still were projected to be gone 20 years from now.

Plus, money in Social Security Trust Fund has been spent; the Treasury left special securities left in place. In recent years, some of those securities have had to be redeemed, adding to the budget deficits.

The long-term viability of government programs can be tackled by Congress in the future. More likely, the issue will be swept under the debt ceiling.