The White House Office of Management and Budget projects that this year, mandatory spending will exceed federal revenue. Congress could cut every dime of discretionary spending and Washington would still run a deficit. Years ahead of forecasts, Social Security paid out more money than it took in last year. So who in Washington is serious about tackling the deficit and looming tidal wave of debt?
Not President Obama. Not anti-tax hardliners who are going after Republicans who negotiate with Democrats. And not D.C. Democrats who oppose needed entitlement reform.
There aren't many people on the right side of this issue because there is a schism in Washington between adults who understand Washington has to cut spending and children who don't want to eat their spinach.
On the side of the angels, I'd start with Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. He has looked at the budget charts and the scary trajectories. And he fears, as he wrote in The Washington Post, "a forcing event," if the government effectively runs out of credit.
This is a moral issue to Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who told Politico's Mike Allen last week, when the credit runs out, there's no safety net.
And: "We can't be good at our jobs if all we're worried about is keeping our jobs."
In Coburn and Ryan, America can find the leadership that is lacking on Pennsylvania Avenue. Obama stood at an arm's length from recommendations made by the bipartisan fiscal commission he created. He won't stick out his neck. He wants Republicans to go first.
Now, Coburn and Ryan don't agree on everything. Coburn voted to back recommendations made by the bipartisan fiscal commission. Ryan voted against them. But they're not just telling their political base what it wants to hear.
Ditto Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin of Illinois and Kent Conrad of North Dakota, who have been meeting with Coburn and other Repubs to form a bipartisan Senate group to tackle thorny entitlement issues.
It tells you something about today's political climate that Republicans have been scolded just for talking with Democrats. After The Wall Street Journal reported that the negotiators were considering a tax overhaul that would eliminate loopholes and net an extra $180 billion over 10 years, Americans for Tax Reform head Grover Norquist wrote to Coburn and company to remind them that a tax code overhaul "would most likely be a violation" of his group's Taxpayer Protection Pledge.
Norquist explained to The Washington Post, "I think golf and cocaine would (be) more constructive ways to spend one's free time than negotiating with Democrats on spending restraint."
In other words, Norquist persists by ignoring the fact that there are more Democrats than Republicans in the Senate and there's a Democrat in the White House.
Coburn Communications Director John Hart noted, "Grover's pledge has become the security blanket of American politics that helps Republicans feel secure and innocent while borrowing and spending. His brand of tax-cut-and-spend Republicanism, however, is fighting a losing battle against math. We're running out of places from which to borrow."
Or as the National Review's Kevin D. Williamson opined, "Norquist should call his outfit 'Americans for Tax Deferral'.'"
The left has its Grover Norquists, too.
Last week, Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., introduced a bill to require a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate for any measure that would cut Social Security benefits.
Boxer argued that Social Security is "in surplus" — true technically, but you have to ignore the math. Washington already spent the surplus. Last year, Social Security paid out some $37 billion more than it took in. Boxer seems to think that a two-thirds requirement will prevent a return to the days when people jumped out of windows because they couldn't make ends meet.
Please. Reformers are floating a proposal to raise the retirement age from age 67 to age 68 by 2050 and 69 by 2075. As Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., told the Washington newspaper The Hill, "If you change it a month a year beginning in the year 2014, it's benign, relatively benign ... The earlier you make the changes, the easier they are."
The Sanders-Boxer measure "makes it harder to have a comprehensive deal," Josh Gordon, policy director of the fiscal watchdog Concord Coalition.
Senate rules already require 60 votes to get a full floor vote. Only treaties have a two-thirds mandate.
President Obama might as well be a potted plant on this issue. And thanks to partisans like Norquist and Boxer, Washington continues to delay the day of reckoning.
Political conventional wisdom has blinded them. They dare not give an inch. They cannot propose anything difficult. They cannot solve problems.
E-mail Debra J. Saunders at [email protected] To find out more about Debra J. Saunders, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.