The Washington Post

Deficit woes and healthcare worries

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Andrew Tisch, co-chairman of the Loews Corporation and co-founder of the No-Labels Coalition, has made an important contribution in helping make American deficit numbers more believable, tangible, and understandable, with examples such as “Our national debt...would form a stack of $100 bills 10,712 miles high.” Everyone who cares about public policy in America should study the numbers he presents. In that regard, I would like to offer some additional back-of-the-envelope numbers for Mr. Tisch and the members of the No-Labels Coalition to think about incorporating into their explanations.  With a population of 313,000,000, a trillion dollars equals $3,195 of debt per person in America.  With our debt at $15.8 trillion, that means that every man, woman, and child alive in America today is on the hook for $50,481 per person.  To put it another way, every American household (an average of 2.6 people living in one housing unit) is on the hook for $8,508 per trillion dollars, or $134,426 for our entire debt so far.  These are numbers that people can wrap their brains around, and begin to understand the consequences of our reckless spending. 

And by the way, this doesn’t include whatever individual debt Americans may have incurred, from medical expenses to a mortgage to education costs to credit cards.  We are drowning in debt, and it’s not sustainable.  But as Mr. Tisch makes clear, the numbers are so big that no one thinks they’re real.  It’s almost like the old saying: “You never hear the bullet that kills you.” 

Before the gallons of ink begin to flow after the Supreme Court ruling tomorrow, put me down for one note of caution for Republicans about the politics of health care.  I’m a worrier by nature, so I’m worried what will emerge after the smoke clears following the Supreme Court’s decision tomorrow.  If the mandate goes down, Obama will have a black eye, but we will still have enormous health care policy problems in America.  And by November, Obama and Romney will have dueling plans. 

I fear that subliminally, many Americans will be asking themselves which candidate is most likely to make sure that they have free (or almost free) and unlimited health care, Romney or Obama?  While no one’s been looking, I think an expectation has crept into large parts of American society that quality health care is an entitlement that someone else should have to pay for.  Republicans will never be able to out-promise or give away more than Obama.  So unless we move aggressively, have a clear plan and an assertive education program, we may find ourselves on the losing end of who can promise the most free health care.  More later. 

Ed Rogers is a contributor to the PostPartisan blog, a political consultant and a veteran of the White House and several national campaigns. He is the chairman of the lobbying and communications firm BGR Group, which he founded with former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour in 1991.


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