KOKOMO – In this month’s issue of “Whistling Past the Graveyard” we will take our annual look at the looming disaster of our national debt and the complete ambivalence of the American public and our government officials at this very real existential threat to most things that we hold dear.

Every year that I have been writing for Howey Politics, I have devoted at least one column to the ever-mounting Red Menace of the national debt. I’ve written and obsessed about this subject during both Democrat and Republican administrations because irresponsible governmental spending knows no political party. Both Republicans and Democrats are recklessly irresponsible when it comes to the long-term threat of deficit spending. No one gets a pass.

The latest trigger to my annual rant is the latest $1.9 trillion boondoggle of President Biden’s pandemic response or the Democrat Party’s “never let a crisis go to waste” cash grab. I won’t rehash the argument that only a very small piece of this “relief” bill is actually pandemic related. Most of us know by now that the spending bill was packed to the gills with mostly pork for the insatiable appetites of voracious Congressional Democrats. Instead, let’s take a look at the relief aspects of the bill.

To hear Democrat leadership talk about it, you would assume that the recipients of the $1,400 per person for those eligible would go to buy critical items such as food, utilities, rent, mortgage and clothing. These would all be worthy expenditures for those Americans who are truly in need.  However, in most cases, the reality of the final destination for the expenditure of the $1,400 is much less certain.

In my capacity as an amateur micro-economist, I set out to do some research on where the money is being spent. First off, I will ignore those who are not in a position to spend the funds. Those would be the approximately 2.3 million incarcerated individuals in our nation’s jails and prisons. Yes, I know that amounts to only a little over $3 billion, but this stuff tends to add up over time. Let’s ignore the fact that Ted Kaczynski (Unabomber), Eric Rudolph (Olympic Park Bomber), Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev (Boston Marathon Bomber) and Bernie Madoff (Ponzi King) all qualified for the $1,400 cash grab. Who says crime doesn’t pay?

I had an interesting discussion with a regional manager for a retail chain last week and was surprised to hear her say that her sales were up by over 700% because of the $1,400 relief checks. It would be nice to report that her stores sell vital consumer items for struggling families, but, alas, her stores sell jewelry. I sure would have liked to see Joe Biden go on television and tell the American people that it was necessary to increase our debt by $1.9 trillion so that struggling families could buy jewelry. My guess is that would have been a non-starter.

A cursory look at the jam-packed parking lots at local shopping malls tells me that most of this desperately needed relief money is being spent like a delayed Christmas spending orgy. From an economic stimulus perspective this may be a good thing, but please don’t market those $1,400 checks as a giant hand up to the needy.  

I’m sure those funds are very helpful to many millions of recipients, but there just had to be a better way of addressing the needs of those who were truly damaged by the pandemic. We read of the Kentucky woman who went to Ohio to buy Fentanyl with her $1,400 and then watched as her two-year-old child ingested the drug and died. In Indianapolis, we learned of the argument that broke out over the $1,400 received that left four people murdered. Those were unintended consequences that you didn’t hear Chuck Schumer or Nancy Pelosi touting.

So the bottom line of all of this malarkey is this: The United States printed up $1.9 trillion that it did not have under the guise of giving the money to those most affected by the pandemic and taxpayers will be paying interest on this money for the rest of our lives. Note that I say paying interest. There is no current plan to pay off any debt owed by our federal government.

The national debt in 1990 was a petite $3.2 trillion. It did not double until 2003.  The debt doubled again seven years later in 2010. Ten years later and our debt is now north of $29 trillion. The interest alone on this debt in 2021 is projected to exceed $375 billion. That is a staggering amount of interest and remember that we currently have historically low interest rates. These low rates will not last forever.

Suppose that you had a child. Let’s call him Sam. Sam makes a nice salary, but for some reason he spends more than he makes every year to finance things like black velvet Elvis paintings, weekly poodle grooming, a Ferrari, dinners at Fifi LaTour, a new Super Ranger 58-caliber hunting rifle and his Bet Rivers habit. Sam borrows the money needed to cover the shortfall on his credit card. After years of this process, Sam is maxed out on five different credit cards. Sam now begins borrowing against his home equity. A few years later, that line of credit is also tapped out. Things are so bad that Sam asks his son to co-sign on a cash advance loan. Sam now comes to you and demands that you start paying the interest on his loans. What do you tell Sam?

The plain ugly truth is that our federal government is no different than Sam. Our debt is out of control and getting worse. We can handle the debt right now because we are a wealthy country and better off than virtually all the other nations of the world. However, this will not always be the case. Sooner than we think, our debt and interest payments will force interest rates higher and result in staggering inflation. The question is not if we will have an existential problem with debt, the question is when it will happen.  

Neither political party seems interested in dealing with the problem. There are only a few ways: You can reduce spending. You can increase taxes. You can hope that inflation will help pay off the debts. Unfortunately, there is no political will to seriously address the debt problem. Any meaningful effort to reduce the growth of debt will be punished by the American people at the ballot box. We blame the politicians, but each of us is responsible for the problem.

So to those who indulge in the milk and honey bestowed by government, and that is virtually all of us, enjoy it while you can. The music of a debt crisis is coming soon and we all will pay the piper. 

Dunn is the former Howard County Republican chairman.