Washington’s financial illiteracy has driven the country’s $15 trillion debt

If you spend a little time in Washington, you start to realize this city is not simply divided into either Republicans or Democrats, or even conservatives or liberals. Washington has two kinds of people: those who do math and those who don’t. 

But it doesn’t take a mathematician to figure out our country is in some real trouble.

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American families and small businesses know what it means to be financially literate. In tough economic times, when employment is hard to find, they tighten their belts to live within their means. They make sacrifices to ensure their expenditures do not exceed their income. 

Unfortunately, Washington cannot say the same.

Washington’s financial illiteracy over the years has driven the country to a $15 trillion debt and counting. It has perpetuated unemployment at or above 8 percent for 38 consecutive months — the highest since the Great Depression. Further, it has continued to ignore the entitlement wave crashing down on us, as eight baby boomers turn 65 every minute.

Today, for every dollar bill the United States spends, 35 pennies must be borrowed from the likes of China, Russia and Brazil. Further, mandatory spending will consume all of U.S. spending in just 10 short years. Sadly, despite the seriousness of our problem, the only proposals coming out of this administration and the U.S. Senate to solve our fiscal crisis are based in budget illiteracy. 

We borrow $3.5 billion every single day. 

President Obama has recently touted one of his solutions to reducing our deficit — the “Buffett Rule.” If imposed, this tax, according to the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation, would bring in an average of $3.1 billion a year over the next decade. Assuming all of this money came in, guess how many minutes that pays for on our $3.5 billion spending every day? 

Three minutes. That is it. 

With 23 hours and 57 minutes still to pay for, it is clear this rhetoric does not match our reality.

We can go even further with other “deficit-reducing” plans the left wing has touted over the last few months.

Want to eliminate subsidies to “Big Oil?” Assuming that we get every penny of those tax deductions back in U.S. coffers, it would bring in a total of $2.2 billion a year. That pays for 2 minutes and 24 seconds of borrowing a day. If we add in all green-energy subsidies, we would get around $10 billion a year, or roughly 10 minutes of borrowing. This is hardly a serious “cure-all” solution. 

Another one of the president’s favorite proposals also comes up short in reality. Eliminating corporate jet tax breaks, a proposal he mentioned six times in a recent deficit-reducing speech, only accounts for 19 seconds of the money we borrow every single day. 

How about eliminating all of our military engagements to put a dent in our debt? In 2011, we spent around $168 billion in all conflicts in the Middle East. If we were to eliminate all Department of Defense spending for military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan, we would only eliminate 3 hours of daily borrowing. 

Sadly, these are the kinds of proposals that hold up around Washington as honest debate. Not only is it fuzzy math, it is downright disingenuous.

We do not have the luxury to delay an honest discussion about the scale of our debt and the crisis it will bring to another day. It is our moral obligation to deal in mathematical reality. On Financial Literacy day, we must have a serious discussion about serious proposals. 

Washington must acknowledge that we have to tell the truth about entitlements. Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, interest on the debt and Veterans Benefits are consuming everything in the budget. In four budget years, 75 percent of all spending will be in those five areas. It is unsustainable, and every day we wait, we make it worse.

We can fix it and we must, but it must be now. While the left might demagogue any attempt to fix and save entitlements, the truth is, by not doing anything, Medicare will end as we know it. Re-working these entitlements will not only strengthen them, but will save us from an avalanche of debt.

Americans deserve better than a Congress that heads full-steam down a path of financial recklessness and squanders their tax dollars. Families and small businesses understand what it takes to be financially literate in this economy. 

Washington needs to take their lead and do the same.

Rep. Schweikert (R-Ariz.) is a member of the Republican Study Committee and serves on the Financial Services Committee.