Kansas City Fed President Urges U.S. to Cut Debt Levels

Yesterday, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City President Thomas Hoenig called on leaders in Washington to reverse reckless spending decisions and focus on reducing the growing national debt:

The United States is moving into an era in which government finance is taking center stage. Fiscal measures taken to bring the economy out of recession, mounting longer-term liabilities for Social Security and Medicare, and other growing demands placed on the federal government have invited a massive buildup of government debt now and over the next several years. Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projections have the federal debt reaching an unsustainable level of two to five times our total national income within the next 50 years, which leads us to an inescapable conclusion—U.S. fiscal policy must focus on reducing this debt buildup and its consequences.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated that national debt-to-GDP reached 12 percent for fiscal year 2009. Mr. Hoenig, a longstanding member of the Federal Open Market Committee, offered three possible paths for dealing with the deficit:

First, the worst choice for our long-term stability, but perhaps the easiest option in the face of short-term political pressures: We can knock on the central bank’s door and request or demand that it “print” money to buy the swelling amounts of government debt. Second, perhaps more tolerable politically, although damaging to our economy: We can do nothing so long as domestic and foreign markets are willing to fund our borrowing needs at inevitably higher interest rates. Or third, the most difficult and probably the least palatable politically: We can act now to implement programs that reduce spending and increase revenues to a more sustainable level…
Fiscal policy is on an unsustainable course. The U.S. government must make adjustments in its spending and tax programs. It is that simple. If pre-emptive corrective action is not taken regarding the fiscal outlook, then the United States risks precipitating its own next crisis.
The only difference between countries that experience a fiscal crisis and those that don’t is the foresight to take corrective action before circumstance and markets harshly impose it upon them. In time, significant and permanent fiscal reforms must occur in the United States. I much prefer this be done well before anyone feels an irresistible impulse to knock on this central bank’s door.

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