I have a distinct childhood memory of the day our house nearly burned down. A neighborhood friend had come into our house and said, "Your trash can is on fire outside!"
Some ashes from our fireplace had been prematurely thrown into the trash can while still smoldering.
My brother, thinking the fire must be just a small flicker on a few pieces of trash, grabbed a glass of water and walked outside to put the fire out. When he encountered an inferno that had already charred part of our house's exterior, he realized that the glass of water in his hand was useless.
He pushed the trash can away from the house, toppled it over and worked with the neighbor to extinguish the fire with the garden hose.
I have been reminded of this story during the fiscal cliff negotiations. The problems our country faces are much bigger than the solutions being offered.
Our national debt is an inferno that will eventually consume our house. Yet, it's being doused with small glasses of water by politicians who either don't realize or refuse to acknowledge the severity of our problem.
Our national debt is $16 trillion and counting. Our total unfunded liabilities -- our debt if you include our future obligations and promises -- are estimated to be between $85 trillion and $100 trillion. This is a fire raging in our trash can.
Leadership in Washington claimed to have struck a deal to avoid the fiscal cliff, raising taxes by $620 billion and cutting $15 billion in spending. Even if you could tax your way out of debt, this minuscule number represents less than 4 percent of our current debt, and less than 1 percent of our unfunded liabilities.
At best it's a small solution for a big problem.
There are a handful of people in Washington who seem to understand. Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio pointed out what is obvious to everyone -- our leaders just kicked the can further down the curb and have done nothing but worsen our crisis.
"I ran for office because I wanted to be part of solving big problems," Rubio said, "and time and again we're faced with options here that don't really do that. The real fiscal cliff is the one that awaits us."
Washington has been utterly incapable of providing big solutions to solve our problems. Since the ratio of tax hikes to spending cuts is 41 to 1, it seems the only thing big in Washington are the tax bills we pay for our leader's spending habits.
The Congressional Budget Office reported that the fiscal cliff deal would actually increase the deficit by $4 trillion over the next decade. It seems this deal might actually hasten the fiscal cliff, rather than diverting it.
Every generation encounters big problems. We are measured by whether our solutions are as big as those problems. By that standard, our current leadership is a case study in how small-minded people failed to rise to the challenge of their time.
Instead of getting the house in order, they doused the fire with a small glass of water, congratulated themselves for having tried, and pointed fingers at each other as the house burned down around them.
Jesse Phillips is a grassroots leader who leads Restore Justice, educating voters of the records of judicial candidates. He is also the director of IT for one of the largest independent medical practices in Orlando. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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