As we celebrate Washington’s Birthday — the name of the holiday is not “Presidents’ Day,” which would be no more appropriate (less, actually, in a republic) than “Congress Day” — it is worth recalling what the father of our country had to say about deficit spending:
“As a very important source of strength and security, cherish public credit. One method of preserving it is to use it as sparingly as possible, avoiding occasions of expense by cultivating peace, but remembering also that timely disbursements to prepare for danger frequently prevent much greater disbursements to repel it, avoiding likewise the accumulation of debt, not only by shunning occasions of expense, but by vigorous exertion in time of peace to discharge the debts which unavoidable wars may have occasioned, not ungenerously throwing upon posterity the burden which we ourselves ought to bear. The execution of these maxims belongs to your representatives, but it is necessary that public opinion should co-operate.”
In the battle raging in Wisconsin, and even more importantly as Paul Ryan and the House Republicans begin to craft a budget that will propose to reform entitlement spending, it will indeed be necessary that public opinion should cooperate. In the face of a presidency that has proposed to more than double the national debt from New Year’s Day 2009 to New Year’s Day 2017 — from less than $10 trillion to more than $20 trillion — and whose average annual deficit spending surpasses that of any other recent presidency by massive margins, the citizenry must be not be willing to “ungenerously [throw] upon posterity the burden which we ourselves ought to bear.”
I suspect that, as we move forward, the citizenry will be more willing to embrace the salutary example of our first president than the profligate example of our current one.