This essay was submitted through the Romney campaign as a response to Lawrence Summers’ most recent column, “This election, Obama is the wiser economic choice.”
The large budget deficits and expansion of the national debt under President Barack Obama, unprecedented since World War II, have him set to bequeath an immensely costly legacy. Each of his deficits as a percentage of gross domestic product has been larger than the previous post-World War II record, for which Democrats excoriated President Ronald Reagan. Between the debt already racked up and what Obama’s FY13 budget projects, each income-tax-paying family will owe more in Obama debt than a new mortgage on a median-priced home and four years of college costs.
Yet more than three years into recovery from the recession, the president has not proposed a program to deal with the massive debt. Indeed, he abandoned even the long-run goal of a balanced budget, adopting the much weaker goal of stabilizing the debt-GDP ratio at the higher projected FY2016 level. But he did not budget for it, appointed the Simpson-Bowles Commission to propose how to do so, then ignored its recommendations. He has no serious proposals to deal with the even larger eventual long-run deficits in Social Security and Medicare, which total several times the current national debt. When Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner was asked by Congress what the administration’s plan was, he said, “We don’t have one.” Vice President Joe Biden guaranteed, “No changes to Social Security.”
The government has been borrowing to cover 30 percent to 40 percent of its budget, hiding the true tax cost of government spending from voters. The $5.5 trillion in debt already accumulated in Obama’s first four years implies a future $5.5 trillion tax hike (in present discounted value). The projected future deficits and debt likewise add up to another immense tax hike, with marginal tax rates eventually reaching 70 percent for many middle-income families. That’s because every dollar borrowed requires future interest be paid; so unless future spending is cut, future taxes must go up to cover the interest.
The prospect and then reality of higher tax rates, plus increased uncertainty about fiscal policy, slow growth and raise the specters of higher inflation eroding the value of the government debt and even a financial crisis. Higher debt above a modest level slows growth because it eventually crowds out investment, and the lower capital formation reduces future incomes. How serious are these negative consequences of Obama’s debt buildup likely to be?