Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank is no conservative, but he is worried, very worried about the deficit. He sees what is happening in Greece as our future:
Look into the face of George Papandreou, America, and see your future.
The Greek prime minister is in town this week as part of a world tour seeking help for his beleaguered homeland. Greece is broke, its government on the verge of default. As Papandreou landed in Washington, there were strikes in the streets of Athens over his tax increases, his wage cuts for government workers and his scaling back of retirement benefits.
As he and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton faced the cameras Monday, she spoke of the weekend’s election in Iraq. “Greece is the birthplace of democracy, so anytime there's a democratic election anywhere in the world, Greece should get a royalty, Prime Minister,” Clinton said.
“Would help our deficit, too,” Papandreou joked.
“Yeah,” Clinton agreed. “It’s a new way of plugging the hole.”
Remember that scene. If current trends persist, an American president will be doing the same thing in about 10 years. He or she will probably be in Beijing, asking for more favorable interest rates or pleading with the Chinese government to keep speculators from betting on an American default.
Greece’s national debt last year reached 113 percent of gross domestic product. The United States will hit that in about 2020, according to the Government Accountability Office, assuming policy continues as it has. And last year’s U.S. budget deficit amounted to 9.9 percent of GDP, nearly rivaling Greece’s 12.7 percent.
To pull Greece back from the edge, Papandreou has promised to cut the deficit to 3 percent of GDP by 2012. For the U.S. government to make an equivalent cut, it would have to shut down the Pentagon and a few other agencies: the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Education, Health and Human Services, Energy, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, the Interior, Justice, Labor, State, Transportation, the Treasury, and Veterans Affairs, plus the Environmental Protection Agency and NASA — and even then we'd come up a few dollars short.