04/26/2011 04:56 pm ET Updated Jun 26, 2011

Can We Please Have an Adult Conversation About Money?

You'll have to forgive me if you think I'm oversimplifying. Let me lay out the money situation for the United States:

1) The government spends a lot of money on a lot of things... every dollar backed by a spending priority articulated by the executive branch or the Congress.

2) The federal government doesn't collect enough money from its various revenue sources to pay for all the things government has decided to do.

3) Paying debt service on the accumulated borrowed money is taking up a bigger share of the overall federal dollar each year.

4) To borrow less, you must spend less or collect more. With me so far? Oh yes, and one more thing...

5) If you decide not to cut heavily from defense, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, there aren't many places left to save much money, certainly not the kind of money you'd have to save to close the massive deficits planned for the coming years.

As I sit in Washington and watch the solemn declarations, political positioning, and imaginary debt reductions suggested in one plan or another, I wish I could make everybody involved in the process talk about the same thing, at the same time. Right now they talk past each other to various constituents and interests, and hide the ball... the various inconvenient truths about one proposal or another.

For example: the plan proposed by the Chairman of the House Budget Committee Paul Ryan (R-WI), expands the federal deficit for years to come. The Ryan plan was approved nearly unanimously by Republican House members, many of whom are stoutly declaring they aren't sure they want to vote to raise the federal debt ceiling. To make the Ryan plan possible, the federal government must borrow more.

The president's plan will also involve borrowing trillions of dollars over the next several years. President Obama, like Rep. Ryan, says he wants to cut federal spending significantly in the coming years. His plan will also add trillions to the accumulated debt of the United States.

On this week's edition of Destination Casa Blanca my guests talked about federal spending, how to cut it, and what could not be cut. Our taped reports (you can watch some of them along with excerpts from our discussions) looked closely at the lives of low-income Latinos living with some forms of federal support who were wondering how to get along without them.

If reducing the size of the federal government is a national goal, does everyone, everyone, have to take a hit to get the books in balance? A lot of our national conversation has warily circled around the difficult and stubborn facts under-girding the budget mess. Republicans have overwhelmingly supported the Ryan plan, which cuts taxes for high-earning Americans, makes significant cuts over time to programs for the poor, and gets the federal budget in balance only over a very long time.

The Obama Plan allows the Bush-era tax cuts to lapse, refrains from further cuts in programs like food stamps (SNAP) and Medicare, and takes even longer than the Ryan Plan to get back to a balanced budget.

We Americans are just lousy at talking about money... about class... about the very different lives lived by different groups of people. Some people who make more than 250 thousand dollars scoff at the idea that they're wealthy, even through they are in the top few percent of all Americans in income, and earn roughly five times the income of the median American family. What's thinkable and doable in a family at that income level simply bears no resemblance to the limitations on a family earning 50 grand.

The two families own very different houses, drive different cars, do different things for recreation, and send their kids to different schools. In some outward ways their lives may look similar, but look a little deeper and you'll find a significant difference: Many of the middle class families achieve that outward affluence and material comfort by drowning in debt, while the families making many times more are paying for their houses, saving for retirement, and accumulating assets.

Latinos are heavily concentrated among the working poor. They have a higher family income than black Americans not because they make more money, but because there tend to be more wage-earners in the average Latino household. They are more likely to be uninsured, more likely to be unemployed, more likely to have school-age children at home, and more likely to use public schools for their education.

If you accept the proposition that the federal government should borrow less money, how do get there? Will taxes have to be raised? Some analysts have suggested that there's no way to really make significant long-term cuts in deficit spending without raising taxes. One of our guests on the program endorsed the frequently cited GOP idea that raising taxes to their pre-Bush levels will punish success and discourage hiring and investment. However, the current levels of taxation haven't done much to encourage them, either.

Policymakers and analysts have been saying for weeks that a deal on the budget is going to require "hard choices" and "compromise." Look at the state of our politics and tell me: do you think the sides in this debate are even sharing the same budget planet? Can you really compromise with someone who doesn't have a few differences with you, but sees the entire landscape in a fundamentally different way from the way you do?

Soon, our national legislature will have to decide whether or not it will vote to raise the national debt ceiling. Shortly after, it will have to pass a budget for the next fiscal year. Who is going to be asked to give up subsidies for the bare necessities of life, and who will be asked for inconvenience? In our country more power resides in the smaller number with the larger resources. Will that "minority" get to decide on behalf of all Americans how we're going to fix the real distortions in the way our government collects and spends money? You tell me... add to the blog here at Destination Casa Blanca, watch excerpts of the program at and on YouTube. And watch our next edition on HITN, or stream it live from the website. See you soon.

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