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OpinionColumnistsWilliam F. B. O'Reilly

Our reckless spending spree

Congress spending and wasting your money.

Congress spending and wasting your money. Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto/mj0007

It’s hard to tell who’s being less serious, the 2020 presidential candidates or the voters who will put one of them in the Oval Office.

Neither seem to care a lick about the single greatest threat to America’s future — the generational debt bomb ticking away at $23 trillion. Indeed, the candidates and a majority of Americans alike would rather exacerbate the looming crisis by spending money we don’t have than take steps necessary to deal with it. It leaves one genuinely wondering whether our nation is in need of a proper psychiatrist.

A March Pew Research Center survey of 1,503 U.S. adults — they presumably didn’t check with their kids before answering — shows that most Americans want to increase or maintain spending levels on 13 key federal programs. Seventy-two percent of Americans want more spending on education and veteran services, 62 percent want to shell out more on highways, and 55 percent support spending increases for both Medicare and environmental programs. These are all laudable notions, but what is it about credit cards that don’t we understand at this point? Or have we succumbed to being a nation of looters, determined to get ours before the store is shut down and the windows are boarded up?

Democratic candidates aren’t even trying: Sen. Elizabeth Warren promises to wave a magic wand and absolve millions of Americans of student loan debt. Sen. Bernie Sanders will give everyone free education and health care. Heck, most Democratic candidates promise some variation of that. Sens. Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar — as well as Sanders and Warren — have signed on to New York Rep. Andrea Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal resolution, which would cost Americans $93 trillion in the first 10 years, according to one estimate. For reference, the current annual federal budget is around $4.1 trillion. And we effectively borrowed $779 billion of that.

President Donald Trump is hardly better. His proposed $4.746 trillion budget for next year would assume more than a trillion dollars of new debt. As the late Sen. John McCain used to quip, Trump and his Republican cohorts in Congress have been spending like drunken sailors, with apologies to drunken sailors for the comparison. Hopefully, Trump’s lone Republican challenger, former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld, will have plenty to say about that.

Speaking of magic wands, Democrats have a new answer to cling to when questioned about fiscal responsibility. It’s called — get this — Modern Monetary Theory, and it posits, conveniently, that the old laws of economic gravity no longer apply. One can spend and borrow virtually without limit simply by calling expenditures “investments.” Inflation will magically remain at bay. That’s some heavy voodoo.

How do they know this? Inflation has remained flat while the United States nearly quadrupled its debt over the past three presidencies, so the years of data preceding this spending spree can be discarded.

Wonderful news, really.

Meanwhile, what do young Americans care about? If you ask the Institute of Politics at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, the answer is more spending. The institute’s 2018 survey of 18- to 29-year-olds showed that young Americans are increasingly left-leaning, strongly supporting programs like a federal jobs guarantee (56 percent); free college tuition for families making up to $125,000 (also 56 percent) and single-payer health care (55 percent).

What they’re going to get instead is a big fat bill. God help the rest of us for saddling them with it.

William F.B. O’Reilly is a consultant to Republicans.