Turning Point

Choices we make now could spell prosperity or decline.

Should we countenance another round of stimulus spending, adding billions more dollars to the national debt, or should we finally begin a serious effort to cut deficits and debt in the interest of longer-term prosperity? Congress is all but deadlocked on that issue.

Are we at a point in our history where choices made now will put us on the path either to renewal of the free enterprise economy of our forbears, or lead us down the road to European-style statism, reliant on powerful bureaucracies and confiscatory taxation? Do the choices we make during the next policy cycle imply that the nation will head either for prosperity or decline?

It seems our government might have reached a crucial turning point-after years of fiscal indiscipline, concomitantly expansionist policies and failure to focus on the long-term needs of our society. The congressional deadlock is itself evidence of the struggle to set the nation's course, as Obama administration stimulators and their allies in Congress have not been able to carry the day over those who can no longer support the borrow-and-spend policies of the past decade.

Even small, temporary steps to keep the economy from receding-such as extending unemployment insurance-now are attacked as unwarranted expansions of government and irresponsible additions to the national debt. Only after months of debate did the Senate muster enough votes to pass an extension of jobless benefits in late July.

Framing this debate in a philosophical context, and with a longer-range view of government's role in America, Arthur C. Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, and a distinguished group commissioned by the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress this spring issued cogent analyses arguing that decisions made now will have great bearing on the nation's future prospects.

Brooks lays out his case in a May 23 essay in The Washington Post. He sees a "new culture war [pitting] the forces of free enterprise [against] an expanding and paternalistic government." Brooks puts Obama squarely in the second camp, citing the president's 2009 speech chiding people who "chase after all the usual brass rings [and] after the big money . . . and worry about whether [they] have a fancy enough title or a fancy enough car . . . [a] message that's . . . been in our culture for far too long-that through material possessions, through a ruthless competition pursued only on your own behalf-that's how you will measure success."

Seventy percent of Americans favor the free- market economy, but they're losing to the 30 percent who want government spending and ownership (GMC, major banks), regulation and income redistribution, Brooks argues. Happiness, the pursuit of which is our third inalienable right, does not come with a welfare check but rather with the opportunity to succeed, he argues convincingly.

Brooks' argument against government expansionism is echoed in less ideological form in the final report of the CPSC's Strengthening America's Future Initiative, issued in April. It too posits a key turning point and seeks to lay out ideas for "regaining our strategic and financial freedom of action, unity at home and standing abroad." CPSC President David Abshire, former Colorado Gov. Roy Romer, leading defense industrialist and Pentagon official Norman Augustine, and former Comptroller General David M. Walker led the initiative's steering committee. Walker is now president of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, which funded the study.

It raises the alarm about the looming fiscal crisis. Interest on the nation's debt soon could be the largest item in the federal budget, buying us nothing of value, the study notes. And it steps up the argument a notch, suggesting we soon might face a situation analogous to the time when, as one of its leading creditors, we forced the British government to abandon a plan to regain control of the Suez Canal. In "an American Suez," China and other major purchasers of U.S. debt might similarly face what British leader Harold MacMillan called "the last gasp of a declining power."

While focusing principally on the fiscal challenge, the CPSC report recommends government undertakes comprehensive political and programmatic reform-in electoral practices; congressional committee restructuring; civil service training; new policies to enhance educational achievement and proficiency in math, science and engineering; energy consumption; infrastructure improvement; immigration policies; and more.

In a June 8 speech at the Center for American Progress, Peter R. Orszag, the Office of Management and Budget's departing director, touched on the administration's spending restraint program: its request that agencies submit budgets encompassing a 5 percent cut to facilitate its plan for a three-year freeze on discretionary spending without killing all new initiatives.

Most of Orszag's speech focused on improving execution of government programs, with special emphasis on bringing Web and other technology practices up to private sector standards. Federal management gains are important, to be sure, but as to the essential steps we need to remain a great nation, Obama has kicked the can down the road, hoping the fiscal reform commission he appointed will produce politically palatable solutions when it reports in December.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Federal IT Applications: Assessing Government's Core Drivers

    In order to better understand the current state of external and internal-facing agency workplace applications, Government Business Council (GBC) and Riverbed undertook an in-depth research study of federal employees. Overall, survey findings indicate that federal IT applications still face a gamut of challenges with regard to quality, reliability, and performance management.

  • PIV- I And Multifactor Authentication: The Best Defense for Federal Government Contractors

    This white paper explores NIST SP 800-171 and why compliance is critical to federal government contractors, especially those that work with the Department of Defense, as well as how leveraging PIV-I credentialing with multifactor authentication can be used as a defense against cyberattacks

  • Toward A More Innovative Government

    This research study aims to understand how state and local leaders regard their agency’s innovation efforts and what they are doing to overcome the challenges they face in successfully implementing these efforts.

  • From Volume to Value: UK’s NHS Digital Provides U.S. Healthcare Agencies A Roadmap For Value-Based Payment Models

    The U.S. healthcare industry is rapidly moving away from traditional fee-for-service models and towards value-based purchasing that reimburses physicians for quality of care in place of frequency of care.

  • GBC Flash Poll: Is Your Agency Safe?

    Federal leaders weigh in on the state of information security


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.