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Fiscal Sanity: It's Been Done Before

by Scott Bittle

Wednesday, February 10th, 2010

Today's must-read budget story is in USA Today, which makes a point that often gets lost when we debate getting the federal budget under control: namely, that it's been done before, and not that long ago, either.

Balancing the budget in the late 1990s required sustained, bipartisan effort, and a combination of both spending controls and tax increases. But it also came at a political cost to a number of the politicians involved.

It's also worth remembering that those efforts in the Nineties to get rid of the year-to-year shortfall never translated into strategies to deal with the problems that are leading the federal budget into disaster in the long run: the rising health care costs and aging population that are going to send costs for Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security soaring, and the national debt along with it.

Right now the nation's finances are getting more attention than they have in a long time. But bipartisanship is in short supply, unless, as some argue, you count a bipartisan unwillingness to look at real solutions, particularly any solutions that might affect their own home states. Others argue that this is no time to worry about the budget at all, given the Great Recession and the risks of long-term unemployment.

That's why the Committee on the Fiscal Future suggested that real efforts to deal with our long-term budget problems start next year, to give the government time to deal with the economic crisis, and time to build consensus on solutions. History shows this can be done. And in this case, if we learn from history, maybe we can repeat it.


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