Does the National Debt Even Matter Anymore? | Opinion

Last Friday, the House passed a $3 trillion bill called The HEROES Act, but there's little about it that's heroic. It sounds like it is meant to honor our heroes on the medical frontlines but, in reality, it's a wish list of spending dreams that heightens one of the most significant threats facing our nation—and especially the middle-class American.

The HEROES Act might get progressives fired up ahead of the fall election, but it contains countless examples of frivolous spending and excess, much of it having little to do with the COVID-19 crisis: student loan forgiveness, repealing tax cuts, "environmental justice" grants, mandated nationwide voting by mail and hate crime legislation, to name but a few.

Other examples of irresponsible spending hidden inside The HEROES Act include:

  • The Emergency Pension Plan Relief Act of 2020 makes it possible for states that have out-of-control pensions to get "such amounts as necessary" from the federal coffers. I sounded the alarm about this problem a few weeks ago. More than $1 trillion in the HEROES bill would go to state and local governments, significantly more than the revenue any of them are expected to lose as a result of the crisis.
  • Section F: Title 5 of the bill funds conservation and environmental pet issues and has nothing to do with helping middle-class Americans recover. It's a classic example of not letting a crisis go to waste.
  • The bill helps marijuana growers get federal funding in what some have called "cash for cannabis." In fact, the word cannabis appears 68 times in the bill. The words job or jobs appear only 52 times.
  • The bill gives stimulus checks to people who are in this country illegally. If the aim is to support American citizens who are out of work, giving money to people who broke our laws to enter the country seems, at the very least, controversial and divisive at a time when we need broadly unifying policies.

All of it is especially egregious because we'd have to borrow and print the money to do any of it. As Shakespeare put it, "Aye, there's the rub." For this fantastical spending bill spotlights a deeper, more dangerous problem—our ballooning national debt.

Our national debt has soared over the last several decades, from $1 trillion in 1982 to over $25 trillion today. Even with a booming economy over the last few years, we kept racking up debt. We were already headed to over $23 trillion before the COVID-19 crisis, which is more than the entire U.S. economy.

Now with the crisis spending and additional debt factored in, $30 trillion is not out of the question over the next 18 months. That's $30,000,000,000,000. And that's not even accounting for the unfunded obligations of Social Security and Medicare.

To be fair, members of both political parties have contributed to the problem. This is not solely a Democratic or Republican problem. It's an American leadership problem.

It may be that we do need to take on additional debt for the good of the American people, as we seek to restore the economy. We've often had to take on additional debt in times of war. The problem is, we were already precariously leveraged before this crisis came our way. Now, instead of it being a manageable, temporary issue, our debt crisis has accelerated exponentially.

Make no mistake, the debt clock is ticking. Every American family understands how this works for its household, but we seem to think it isn't true when it comes to the federal government. We know that if we continue to live beyond our means, day after day, year after year, then sooner or later it will catch up with us. We can't escape it as individuals—but we act as though the federal government can do so for us.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Perhaps we think the government can just print whatever money is needed? Perhaps the problem feels too complex and abstract? Perhaps we think that if we just ignore it, the problem will take care of itself?

Unfortunately, not one of those things is true.

Our federal government's financial plan has been effectively reduced to a Ponzi scheme, an institutionalized Bernie Madoff. We borrow from one source to pay back the borrowing from another source, and then borrow again to continue the cycle.

Bills like the one passed by Speaker Pelosi and the House not only fail to confront our national debt problem, but also make it seem as if there is no problem to begin with.

It is unconscionable that our leaders have put us in this position. In one sense, we have only ourselves to blame as citizens. We have demanded too many things from the government, which our Founders never intended for it to provide. Perhaps that is why Thomas Jefferson called debt "the greatest of dangers to be feared."

We have been asking for something from nothing for too long. Now we're all sitting on a financial time bomb—and the clock is ticking.

Jeff Webb is an internationally renowned entrepreneur, founder of Varsity Brands, a global sports empire, president of the International Cheer Union, and a business, politics and cultural commentator. His work has been featured in Newsweek, The Washington Times, Forbes, ESPN, and more. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.