"Powerball tickets were sold at a rate of roughly 130,000 tickets per minute yesterday. That's because the highly ballyhooed jackpot was worth an estimated $550 million. Big, right?
But when you compare it to some of the dollar figures Washington is fighting over these days, it doesn't add up to much. To start, just to avoid falling off the fiscal cliff, lawmakers need to come up with 2,131 winning tickets before the end of the year—a total of $1.2 trillion. To fully pay off the national debt, Uncle Sam needs to win the $550 million jackpot once a day for the next 81 years.
The odds of either of those scenarios happening are, well, impossible. More feasible is the chance that lawmakers will arrive at some sort of solution before January 1—but only slightly according to some.
Still, Republican and Democratic leaders seem confident that a deal will be reached before the end of the year. "I am optimistic that we can continue to work together to avert this crisis sooner rather than later," Republican speaker John Boehner told reporters yesterday. President Obama said that we might see a resolution before Christmas.
Optimism is good. But—like in the lottery—it can only get you so far. Much work still needs to be done to bring the two sides to an agreement. Mr. Boehner also noted in his statement that, "In order to try to come to an agreement Republicans are willing to put revenue on the table, but it's time for the president and Democrats to get serious about the spending problem that our country has."
It's true that spending will likely be the next part of the fiscal cliff puzzle to be addressed. But time is running out. There's just over 30 days left to cut the equivalent of yesterday's big jackpot from the budget—2,131 times."
One single sentence from the above helps put things in perspective -- "TO FULLY PAY OFF THE NATIONAL DEBT, UNCLE SAM NEEDS TO WIN THE $550 MILLION JACKPOT ONCE A DAY FOR THE NEXT 81 YEARS.
Those numbers are mind boggling, of course.
Yet the politicians continue their free-spending ways with our money.
And in the meantime, they play unserious intramural games pretending to arrive at an agreement about how to bring revenues better in line with spending --- not to eliminate the trillion dollar annual deficits, mind you, but just to stop them from deteriorating further.
Here's my simple minded take.
If solid economic growth (at least 3% in annual real inflation adjusted terms) led by the private sector doesn't resume soon and if entitlements (Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security) aren't soon restructured in a long term serious way, it won't make any difference how many fiscal cliffs we avoid or go over in the interim.
Neither will it make any difference how many "powerball" games the politicians continue to play with our nation's future economic health and our citizens' potential prosperity.