04/28/11 — Let's be practical: Households that manage money the way government does are destined for danger

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Let's be practical: Households that manage money the way government does are destined for danger

Confused about the real story behind the state and federal budget concerns?

Not sure if you should believe what you hear about potential catastrophe in Raleigh and policies that will create starving senior citizens and women who will have no place to turn to get prenatal care?

We were, too, until we started to think about real world applications to this problem. In other words, we stopped listening to everybody's rhetoric and started thinking about the ramifications of leaving things as they are.

Politicians are trained to use the most vivid images, the most dire of circumstances to shift public opinion. They know how tender-hearted most Americans are -- and they head straight for the images that will make them think twice about change and dire measures.

So, you have to take every speech, every analysis with that in mind.

Right now, both sides are in a death roll for the hearts and minds of the American people -- read, voters -- when it comes to the budget. Both sides claim the other is pointing this country to a collision course. Democrats say the cuts are too severe and they will have serious consequences on the people who need the help right now the most. Republicans say their budget plan is sound and that it will stop the indiscriminate spending that has created this problem in the first place.

So who is telling the truth?

It depends on the commentator you listen to.

But here are some ideas to consider as you try to come up with your own view of the budget mess:

• Raising the debt ceiling: Here's a real world description. You have $12,000 in credit card debt. You are struggling to make the payments, but you keep using the card, keeping it right at the limit. Eventually someone offers to raise your credit card limit to $12,500 -- do you take advantage of the chance to keep a cushion or spend $500 more dollars? To discipline yourself to wean yourself off credit, you have to reject that increase and cut to live within your means and pay down the debt. Raising the limit allows you to avoid addressing the real problem. See how much clearer it is when you look at it that way?

• Sustaining social programs: If it is easier to sit at home and draw a check with no demands, no push to change your circumstance, what do you think most people do? The social welfare program has not worked in decades. We have more people on welfare, more people still having children they cannot afford, more people who are trying to beat the system rather than working to get away from it. What if we rewarded -- handsomely -- those who really made an effort and set limits on how long someone can depend on benefits and assistance? What if we put more demands on those who get food stamps? What if we aggressively chase down cheats and frauds? Do you think we might have fewer people willing to do the work necessary to take advantage of the free stuff and we might have more money to help those who really need us?

• Budgets: If you have a certain amount of money, you sometimes have to tell your children that you cannot afford the luxuries you might wish you could give them. You put off a new car, dial down a family vacation or eat at home and set the savings aside for a rainy day. That is how you live responsibly. Sometimes you have to say "no" now to be able to say "yes" later. It is time for government to say "no" more often.

Fixing the economy is not going to be an easy job. It is going to take guts and tough talk as well as some pretty significant reality checks.

To get back on course, we have to be tough, too.

We have to really listen and not fall for the manipulations that are sure to come as campaign season heats up.

We know how to balance a budget -- and most of us have learned a little from the economic downturn and have changed our own views of budgeting and spending.

It is time for our government to do the same.

Published in Editorials on April 28, 2011 10:37 AM