The National Debt: What The Left And Right Agree On | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

The National Debt: What The Left And Right Agree On

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The congressional supercommittee announced Monday that it failed to come to an agreement on reducing the deficit. After three months of negotiating, the Democrats and Republicans just couldn't agree on how much spending to cut or how high to raise taxes.

But this is not a story about how the left and right disagree with each other. In fact, they actually largely agree.

Alison Fraser, director of economic policy studies at the right-leaning Heritage Foundation, says this:

We are on the wave, of the leading edge of 78 million baby boomers retiring into entitlement programs. So going forward, spending in the future is unsustainable.

Bob Greenstein, president of the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities says this:

Over the course of a few decades, the debt would rise to over 100% and then over 200% of GDP and then keep rising. That's not sustainable.

Everyone agrees that our nation is pretty deep in debt — about $10 trillion in debt. And they agree that within a decade or two, if nothing is done, debt is going to be a much bigger problem than it is today.

Over the next few decades, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid will consume a bigger and bigger share of government spending. And if something isn't done, these programs may eventually bankrupt us.

Alison Fraser:

You know it starts with Social Security and then it spreads to Medicare, and the simple fact is wonks like me on the right center and left all agree that these are the programs that need to be cracked.

Bob Greenstein:

The two factors are a) the aging of the population and b) the increase in health care costs throughout the entire U.S. health care system. Those two factors are what drive the projected rate of growth in Medicare and Medicaid and to, a much lesser degree, in Social Security.

They also agree that, as things stand, our debt is growing faster than our economy as a whole.

And this frames the failure of the supercommittee in an especially harsh light. By all accounts, the first step to reining in the debt means coming up with $4 trillion in deficit reductions over the next 10 years. The supercommittee was aiming for cuts of $1.2 trillion over 10 years, a goal that was too small to stop the debt from growing. And they couldn't even agree on that.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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