10/08/2012 12:18 pm ET Updated Dec 08, 2012

Big Bird and the American Dream

The recent criticisms of Mitt Romney's willingness to end subsidies to PBS merit laughter worthy of Tickle Me Elmo.

Governor Romney's remarks were far from a personal attack on Big Bird, Cookie Monster, or even Bert and Ernie. He's hardly calling for the stars of Sesame Street to be thrown out into the street. As his critics even acknowledge, the federal government accounts for only 15% of the PBS budget. If unseemly reality television stars can survive without taxpayer dollars, so, too, can Big Bird and his compatriots.

Those who challenge the proposed cuts ridicule their modest size. They argue that the $450 million in savings wouldn't mean much in the broader scheme of things. But, by this short-sighted logic, Solyndra's squander of $535 million is not a big deal either. Nor is the $90 billion in handouts President Obama offered to green energy as part of his $800 billion "stimulus" package in 2009.

The fact of the matter is that our nation is more than $16 trillion in debt. For the past four years, the federal government has run up $1 trillion deficits. In this past fiscal year alone, it was $1.1 trillion. Because we're spending far more than we take in, our government has no choice but to borrow the money and, eventually, pay it back with interest. China now holds more than $1 trillion of our nation's debt. In other words, taxpayers could be said to be funding not one, but two public television stations: PBS and Chinese Central Television.

Sesame Street's defenders laud the program as educational for children, an assertion which I don't question. I watched it growing up. But one has to wonder, if we don't heed the basic arithmetic lessons of The Count, what's the point?

After all, in spite of President Obama's 2008 campaign promises to cut the deficit in half, the budget math of his administration is a long ways from adding up. PBS subsidies, of course, are not the major drivers of our debt. What really requires reforms are entitlement programs that are already on the path to bankruptcy like Medicare. That said, if we're serious about restoring solvency, we need not be shy about putting non-essential programs on table, and PBS is one of those.

If we truly want to invest in our children's futures, we need to take steps to ensure that our government and economy do not follow the red ink of Europe. We need to ensure that we do not fall off this fiscal cliff. We need to ensure that their future will not be mired in debt and dwindling opportunities.

This election is about big choices. Governor Romney and President Obama have two very different plans. After four years in the White House, the president's record speaks for itself. He hasn't initiated the serious conversation, let alone provided leadership, on the burgeoning debt he once decried as "unpatriotic." Since he took office, the national debt has risen by $5.4 trillion.

Governor Romney is offering a new direction. He knows that for too long, our politicians have avoided the tough decisions that need to be made. He's simply asking if government support of Sesame Street is so critical that it's worth borrowing money from China and sending the bill to my generation. And he's giving the American people a straight answer: no. The Big Bird jokes may flourish, but our state of fiscal disrepair is no joke, and we owe it to young people today and the next generation to get serious.