What can the Civil War tell us about today's debate over deficit and debt reduction? It's the notion of sacrifice that links the two eras. Then, as now, the nation faced a serious fiscal crisis. And then, as now, lawmakers struggled over how to allocate the pain incurred while solving it.I've said it before and I'll say it again. Democrats and Republicans have been complicit in deficit-spending for decades. They created entitlement programs that are structurally imbalanced and unsustainable. They designed tax expenditures that distort markets, stoking health care inflation and contributing to the real estate bubble. They manufacture drama to score points with political supporters who cannot or choose not to keep track of the bigger picture.
Differences abound, of course. An entitlement-driven fiscal crunch is not the same thing as a war, no matter how severe it might become. Mortal sacrifice on the battlefield is not the same as economic sacrifice from a paycheck.
Still, the notion of shared sacrifice unites those episodes. Clearly, solving today's fiscal problems will be painful, requiring higher taxes and lower spending. The necessary changes won't be pleasant for anyone -- and they will be deeply painful for some, especially those who depend on key social programs.
But today's lawmakers have failed to acknowledge that broad-based sacrifice will be necessary to solve the nation's fiscal problems. No one in either party is willing to talk about meaningful entitlement reform.
Lawmakers are also not being honest about taxes. If higher revenues are going to be part of the solution, then the extra burden will almost certainly fall on everyone. But so far, the champions of higher revenues have been unwilling to acknowledge that everyone will end up paying more. Instead, they have focused narrowly on raising taxes on those with high incomes.
We cannot address these structural and tax policy challenges by increasing taxes on "millionaires and billionaires." There is no "class war" between the 1% and the 99%. If we want a bigger government and if we want to maintain federal spending on entitlements, we'll need to raise taxes on the top, middle, and bottom of the income spectrum. We may need to eliminate "sacred" tax expenditures. We may need a VAT or carbon tax. The status quo is a path towards extreme hardship for millions of Americans when the bottom falls out from under the political class.