J. Scott Applewhite, AP
The Capitol is seen in overcast skies as the 115th Congress convenes in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017.
Conflict or Collusion?

Collusion is the silent but lethal force that has crippled the economy and strapped the nation with debilitating debt. It ensures that power stays with the D.C. elite, instead of with "we the people."

Posted by Sutherland Institute on Sunday, April 30, 2017

The most common complaint voiced about members of Congress is that there is just too much conflict in our nation’s capital. It is an easy conclusion to come to if you are simply following the news through the lens of your social media feed. Partisan bickering and the toxic talk from pundits on both side of the political spectrum provide a steady stream of hyperbole.

Such chatter captures headlines and propels Twitter trends but fails to encapsulate the real problem in Washington. Collusion is the silent but lethal force that has crippled the economy and strapped the nation with debilitating debt, and it ensures that power stays within the Beltway elite instead of with the American people.

You simply cannot get $20 trillion in debt through conflict. It is absolutely impossible. The only way to get $20 trillion in debt is through collusion.

Married couples know it is impossible to sink deep in debt through conflict. If you are going back and forth with your spouse debating how money should be spent you will usually come to a prudent, responsible decision on whether to buy something. On the other hand, when both spouses collude and justify splurging for that new entertainment system or getaway trip to the Bahamas, the debt can begin to mount mighty fast. Collusion is the slipperiest of slopes and a fast pass to the pit of economic debt and despair, which can take more than a generation to dig out of.

Congress has become the epitome of spending collusion. For many years “earmarks” were the collusion-enabling ingredient in the recipe of economic disaster for America. Over the years many a bill in Congress passed only with a vote purchased with an earmark of money for a hometown highway or local pet project. They even started to name them: “Cornhusker kickback,” “Louisiana Purchase” or the famous “bridge to nowhere.” Even after the earmark era ended, spending bills have been laced with collusive expenditures and benefits for the well-connected.

Far too many in Congress have simply become comfortable with the ever-increasing size of the national debt. Just this week, when it was estimated that the president’s proposed tax reform plan could add several trillion dollars to the national debt, a stunning number of politicians said they were either “comfortable with it” or “could live with it.”

While politicians may be comfortable with more debt, their grandchildren will be crushed by it. Experts from across the political spectrum now agree that the biggest threat to America’s national security is our debt and perpetual deficit spending.

Sadly, states and local governments are also joining the collusion as they accept more and more money from the federal government, with all the strings that go with it. Individual citizens are also getting comfortable with an increasing number of services coming out of Washington. Amazingly few Americans acknowledge or even recognize the economic cost of such collusive spending today or the total societal price of that debt their grandchildren will pay tomorrow.

Over the past 40 years our national debt has skyrocketed from $1 trillion in the mid-1970s to $20 trillion and counting today. If the interest rate, which has been near historic lows, were to tick up just slightly toward historic norms, the annual interest payment on America’s debt would rapidly reach nearly $1 trillion. That is just the interest. No tax increase or spending cut would even come close to closing that gap. Such collusion-induced debt and rising interest payment would decimate the poor and the middle class in America.

J. Reuben Clark was right when he said, “Interest never sleeps nor sickens nor dies; it never goes to the hospital; it works on Sundays and holidays; it never takes a vacation; … it has no love, no sympathy; it is as hard and soulless as a granite cliff. Once in debt, interest is your companion every minute of the day and night; you cannot shun it or slip away from it; you cannot dismiss it; it yields neither to entreaties, demands, or orders; and whenever you get in its way or cross its course or fail to meet its demands, it crushes you.”

As Washington debates funding the government and reforming the tax code, many will complain about political conflict in Congress. But as citizens we would be wise to watch out for the kind of collusion that is bankrupting the nation and threatening American freedom for future generations.

Boyd C. Matheson is president of Sutherland Institute, a conservative think tank that advocates for a free market economy, civil society and community-driven solutions.