Should Tucsonans give two shucks about the brinksmanship in Washington D.C. over the federal debt ceiling?
It’s a complex issue that is being trivialized by ideologues as simple – cut spending or raise taxes. The scale of the problem is so enormous it seems like they’re talking about play money (if you wanted to count the $13 trillion debt, counting at $1 a second and never sleeping, it would take you 412,000 years).
But the issue is not quite as esoteric as one might dismiss it. The days of the federal government only controlling imports, liquor and the military have been over for a century. Every bit of our lives is affected by the federal government, and not just through taxation.
Most people support government spending that benefits them and oppose spending that doesn’t. When it’s your ox that’s getting gored, you care.
And whether you’re liberal or conservative, if the problem isn’t solved reasonably, your ox is sure to be gored.
Consider our three largest economic engines – the University of Arizona, Davis Monthan Air Force Base and Raytheon.
All three rely heavily on federal spending. In addition to subsidizing a lot of the tuition at the UA, the feds pay for a lot of the research. All of DM, obviously, is federal and most of Raytheon’s missile contracts.
Significantly cut federal spending to those three and the recent recession will be remembered as the good ol’ days.
But Uncle Sam’s wallet pays for a lot more than that in Tucson. Should we reduce the number of Border Patrol agents? Should we reduce the number of FBI agents?
Our local police get federal money to help combat drugs and other crimes, not to mention all the DEA and ATF agents here fighting drug smugglers.
All those federal employees spend their paychecks in Tucson. Is Tucson better off without that money? Or that enforcement?
There are a lot retired military in Tucson who use the VA medical center. Is closing the VA or reducing its doctors and services a further sacrifice our old soldiers will have to make for their country?
Federal money paid for a lot of the recent expansion of the freeway, which provided hundreds of jobs during the worst of the recession. It also pays for a significant part of the Regional Transportation Authority’s projects that touch every part of metro Tucson and provide thousands of jobs each year.
The federal government pays to feed thousands of school children here everyday, among other school spending. There are thousands of jobs tied to that spending.
Tourism is a major part of our economy. Would Tucson be as nice of a place to visit if Sabino Canyon were closed, or Saguaro National Park?
There are a lot more tentacles of the federal government entwined in Tucson, but the largest one by far is Social Security. There are roughly 150,000 people over age 65 in Pima County. The average monthly social security payment is $1,100. That’s about $160 million a month or a little less than $2 billion a year the federal government doles out to Pima County residents just for being old. That money gets spent almost immediately after it’s doled out.
Clearly, the debt ceiling debate matters to Tucson. The federal government can’t keep spending borrowed money. We must learn to do with less of some of the above if we are to relieve ourselves of the deficit’s and national debt’s crushing burdens.
But if spending cuts are the only solution, as half the country is arguing, whose ox should get gored in the process?
Raise the debt ceiling. Then solve the deficit and the debt.