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With that share of the U.S. national debt held by individuals, corporations, pension funds and foreign governments having risen in 2009 from 41 percent to 53 percent of GDP, Penner and Walker believe it imperative to get the deficit under control. Unfortunately, it is not possible to see how, politically, this can be done.
Consider. The five largest elements in the budget are Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, defense and interest on the debt.
With interest rates near record lows, and certain to rise, and back-to-back $1.4 trillion deficits, this budget item has to grow and has to be paid if the U.S. government is to continue to borrow.
Second, with seniors on fire against Medicare cuts in health care reform, it would be fatal for the Obama Democrats to curtail Social Security or Medicare benefits any further this year. Next year, they will not only lack the congressional strength but any desire to do so, after their anticipated shellacking this fall.
The same holds true for Medicaid. The Party of Government is not going to cut health benefits for its most loyal supporters. Indeed, federal costs may rise as state governments, constitutionally required to balance their budgets, cut social benefits and beg the feds to pick up the slack.
This leaves defense. But the president is deepening the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan to 100,000 troops, and the military needs to replace weaponry and machines depreciated in a decade of war. Where, then, are the spending cuts to come from?