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Paul Hayden

The 9,000 Pound Elephant in the Living Room

March 28, 2011

Financial advisor Dave Ramsey put forth an interesting scenario recently on his nationally syndicated radio call-in program. Taking a hypothetical phone call from John Q. Public and his wife, We the People, in one brief illustration Ramsey demonstrated that no one in Washington, D.C., is really serious about cutting spending.

Ramsey has a way of boiling large numbers down to their essence and showing us the absurdity of our debt crisis. In his radio example, his callers — "John" and "We" — are earning $58,000 a year. However, they are spending $75,000 a year. More importantly, they have credit card debt totaling $327,000. In fact, $10,000 of the family's income goes just to pay interest on those credit cards.

"Now, what would you expect my advice to this couple to be?" Ramsey asked his radio audience. He then proceeded to say that if he followed the current model of "cuts" being proposed in Washington, his recommendation would be that they reduce their annual expenditures by a mere $3,000 — all the way down to $72,000.

Ramsey has calculated that these numbers are in exact proportion to the actions of our federal government in dealing with our deficit. However, instead of terms like "billions" and "trillions," to which no one can relate, Ramsey has reduced the numbers to one we can all comprehend. Anyone with a brain can figure out that a family making $58,000 and spending $75,000, with $327,000 in credit card debt, is headed for bankruptcy — or worse.

This, most people would agree, is the classic definition of insanity. And yet, many Americans go merrily along pretending that somehow the reason for our debt is the war in Iraq, or the war in Afghanistan, or tax breaks for the rich or whatever other clichι entrenched Washington politicians want to throw out during election years. The truth is that we could eliminate every federal program in Washington and we still could not pay for Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security at the current levels — and still provide for the defense of the country. The truth is that this nation cannot pay its bills, and like John Q. Public and his wife, We the People, we are in for a rude awakening when those bills come due.

It has become obvious over the last two years that Barack Obama and the Democrats in Congress have no intention of being serious about the realities of our federal spending. Letting them set our national priorities is — in the words of satirist P.J. O'Rourke — tantamount to giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.

It is tempting to believe that John Boehner and his House Republicans are more serious than the Democrats about making the tough decisions to keep this nation from falling into a financial pit from which we can never escape; but all one has to do is look at their proposals to know they are not the least bit serious. They are as addicted to spending as Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, who ran our spending levels up to the point where we are now spending $1.5 trillion more than we are taking in this year. Meanwhile, Boehner and company want us to cheer about $6 billion in cuts?

We cannot continue in serious times with unserious people representing us in Washington. They have taken the United States of America from the greatest, strongest, most prosperous country on the face of the earth and turned it into a debtor nation. They have taken us from a shining city on a hill to a banana republic.

As Dave Ramsey concluded in his lesson to his listening audience, it is the 9,000-pound elephant sitting on our foot in the living room.

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Copyright ©2011 Doug Patton

Doug Patton describes himself as a recovering political speechwriter who agrees with himself more often than not. His weekly columns are syndicated by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate. Readers are encouraged to email him at dpatton@cagle.comand/or to follow him on Twitter at @Doug_Patton.