Can I Just Tell You?Can I Just Tell You? NPR's Michel Martin gives a distinct take on news and issues

Worried About Your Wallet? Listen Up To Deficit Talk

A man representing a lawmaker standing in front of a U.S. flag opens his empty wallet
iStockphoto.com

I have a few words about the series we are running this week. We are calling it "Show Me the Recovery," and we are going to try to explain some of the challenges and choices around the budget issues that our government leaders are grappling with right now on our behalf. As we mentioned in Monday's program, talk about the budget and deficits are dominating the headlines this week because President Obama appointed a bipartisan group to try to get a handle on reigning in the government's enormous and growing budget deficits, and, of course, the accumulating debt. That group is set to give its report on Wednesday after testing the waters with the chairmen's recommendations earlier this month. Meanwhile, another group headed by representatives of the two major political parties has released its recommendations already. Both groups call for a combination of spending cuts or caps on spending, plus tax increases.

Can I just tell you? I know this can seem about as interesting as watching paint dry. It's like when you were in college and the administration asked for "student input" on some thing or another. You knew it was important, so you'd find the nerdiest guy or girl in your class and try to get him or her to go so you could go party. But guess what? The party is over. Or it will be soon enough. Simply put, the government is spending more than it is raising in revenue, and it's borrowing to make up the difference. It's kind of like living on credit cards. At some point, that bill comes due and it can take up a bigger and bigger share of the budget. What happens then? Interest rates go up. Everything costs more, and there is less to spend on everything else, like our kids, our seniors or our technology. So these are decisions that affect everybody, and everybody deserves to understand what's on the table.

This week we are also going to talk about what could improve economic conditions in the near term. Now, I know it's a lot more fun to talk about whether Kanye West is an idiot or a genius, and why Bristol Palin survived when anybody can see she can't dance. And if you're like most people, you're worried about getting ready for the holidays. And if you're like too many people, you're worried about getting through the holidays with less money in your pockets than you wish you had, or than you had last year. But worrying and planning are two different things. If you are worried about what's in your wallet, and let's face it, most of us are, then this is the time to listen up, because the choices our leaders make or don't make today will have a great deal to do with what's in your wallet tomorrow and your children's wallets later on.

We are going to try to make it as simple as possible. But make no mistake: It's important.

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Can I Just Tell You?Can I Just Tell You? NPR's Michel Martin gives a distinct take on news and issues