The remaining candidates for the Republican nomination for president were still throwing haymakers at each other Tuesday when the Congressional Budget Office provided a chilling reminder of the most critical issue in this year's elections -- Washington's unsustainable, catastrophic spending addiction.
The CBO reported the federal deficit for the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30 will reach about $1.1 trillion, $100 billion more than it had predicted just six months ago. That figure would ensure deficits of at least $1 trillion in every year of President Obama's term.
Worse, the CBO predicts tepid economic growth and rising national unemployment, with the jobless rate reaching 8.9 percent later this year and 9.2 percent in 2013.
Congress hasn't passed a budget in more than three years, last year's so-called deficit-reduction pact has had no effect on the government's fiscal woes (some lawmakers already are plotting to undo automatic cuts triggered by a supercommittee's failure to act), and the national debt has soared past $15 trillion.
If Congress allows the Bush tax cuts and an AMT patch to expire at the end of the year, and it doesn't extend the payroll tax cut and jobless benefits by the end of this month, according to the CBO report, Washington would still add more than $500 billion per year to the national debt -- and the economic recovery would be strangled. If Congress keeps tax rates where they are and fails to enact major spending cuts, by 2022 the national debt would reach almost $30 trillion, a debt load that doubles our gross domestic product and makes Greece and Italy look like penny-pinching misers.
The Democratic response to this torrent of troubling news? "Republicans must be willing to put revenue on the table," said Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D.
Washington doesn't have a revenue problem. It has a spending problem. Annual federal outlays are up about $1 trillion from just five years ago, and the president and congressional Democrats have no plan to dial it back. Indeed, last week's State of the Union address lasted more than an hour, but President Obama spent barely one minute talking about deficits, the national debt and entitlement reform.
The GOP's presidential candidates have no shortage of issues to address while they campaign for Nevada's Saturday caucus. But they would be wise to remind voters that unlike the current president, they understand the gravity of Washington's fiscal irresponsibility.
Deficit spending and the national debt must be at the top of our next president's agenda. The debate on just how to accomplish that must start today.