The former mayor of Houston and 2010 Democratic candidate for Texas governor, Bill White talks to the Current about his new book, a critique of America’s recent and growing reliance on borrowing.
What inspired you to write this book?
I love history and the story of traditional limits on federal debt had not been told. After 2000, the nation abandoned some of its historical budget practices that had preserved a better future for generations of Americans, and I wanted to tell the story of why that had been done.
You write about how the Bush administration essentially put the Afghanistan and Iraq wars on a credit card, financing them strictly by debt—what is the impact on our economy today?
The cost of disguising the expansive wars and other government expenses by debt is now being felt in the form of rising interest expense paid by the federal government that by 2020 … will be as great as the total personal income taxes that were collected in 2010. So just like a family or business, as debt escalates then monthly interest payments go up, and that leaves less to pay for everything else. And it gives current taxpayers less current value for their tax dollars.
How has the current administration handled fiscal borrowing?
The approaches to borrowing for routine expenses are not all that different from the Obama administration than the Bush administration and that is not simply the fault of the White House; in each case Congress ultimately controls the purse strings. The book tells the remarkable story of how before 2000, both conservatives and progressives agreed on the need to balance the budget, but today there is no mainstream member of Congress who has advocated a budget this year, next year or the year after that would balance revenue and expenses. This is a completely new development in American politics.
What are some myths or commonly held beliefs about our nation’s debt crisis, past or present, that you deconstruct?
Many people think that the U.S. has never balanced the budget but in fact, for about 180 years the federal government never borrowed except for during extraordinary purposes.… Another myth is that somehow it all started during the New Deal but we’d always plugged the holes during the downturns beginning … in 1819.
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San Antonio Book Festival
Bill White, moderated by Evan Smith
10am, Sat, April 5
Central Library Auditorium