It's fascinating to hear so many politicians suddenly concerned about the deficit.
Because, until now, most of them didn't give a flip.
Politicians from both parties went through money like Charlie Sheen went through coke.
And they didn't even have the decency to unleash a "violent torpedo of truth" and be honest about it. Instead, they demonstrated wicked double-standards, jacking up the deficit when they were in control and complaining about it only when the other party was doing it.
I started writing about the nation's "debt ceiling" — America's version of a credit card limit — five years ago. The national debt had nearly doubled over the previous 10 years to $9 trillion. And I was wondering whether anyone was concerned.
The answer in a nutshell: No.
George W. Bush was president and wanted to raise the debt ceiling again. And the GOP-controlled Congress obliged. That included every one of Central Florida's Republicans — from John Mica and Tom Feeney to Ric Keller and Mel Martinez.
Oh, there were a few Democrats who complained about debt spending at the time — like the one who blustered that raising the debt was a "failure of leadership … shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren."
But that senator was Barack Obama — who had no problem raising the debt limit when he took over with the help of many of the Democrats who had complained just a few years before.
Apparently racking up debt is cowardly and irresponsible decision … unless your party's doing it. Then everything's cool.
The truth, of course, is that debt is a serious problem for this country. We cannot keep on this current course — which is part of why I began writing about it long before it became a Tea Party talking point.
Here's another truth: You cannot seriously tackle the problem without looking at both sides of the budget equation — spending and revenue.
That's not just me talking. Those were the crystal-clear findings of the president's bipartisan debt commission.
The commission's final recommendations were blunt: "The Problem Is Real. The Solution Is Painful. There's No Easy Way Out. Everything Must Be On the Table. Washington Must Lead."
That was four months ago. Yet, so far, few are listening.
Here's what the debt commission recommended:
Big cuts. Close to $200 billion in domestic and defense cuts in 2015. A cap on spending so that it cannot exceed 21 percent of gross domestic product. For social security, retirement age would increase to 68 by 2050, while benefits for lower-wage workers would also increase.
A broadened tax base. Lower taxes for the majority of Americans. Also a much simpler tax code. The increased revenues, billions and billions of them, would come from ending exemptions, loopholes and shelters, many of them exploited by corporations and the wealthiest investors.
All told, the proposal aimed to get the annual deficit down from more than 10 percent of the GDP down to 3 percent within four years.
Not everything in the report was perfect. For example, I personally question changing the way deductions for charitable contributions are tallied.
But the big-picture goal of making serious changes to both spending and taxing plans was the real deal.
So, I was curious whether any of your representatives were the real deal, too.
I sent the office of every House and Senate member who represents Central Florida the following straight-forward question:
"Are you willing to consider both spending cuts and increased tax revenues, as the debt commission recommended?"
Would you like to guess how many "yes" responses I received?
A couple, like Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson and Republican Rep. Rich Nugent, came close. Others, like U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, sent lengthy, prewritten pieces that touched on the topic. And I got plenty of platitudes about America being at a crossroads. (You can read the unedited responses at orlandosentinel.com/takingnames.)
But a simple "yes" to this basic question proved elusive.
We are a country afraid of both specifics and sacrifice.
"This is selfishness," former GOP Sen. Alan Simpson, the co-chairman of the debt commission, said in a radio interview last week, summarizing the problem. "No one has been asked to sacrifice in this country since World War II, except our military."
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