The national debt is $20.3 trillion, and growing at dizzying levels by the second.

It’s hard to imagine how politicians can, with straight faces, claim to be fiscal conservatives – unless we overhaul our definition of “conservatism.” The debt grew some $9 trillion under former President Obama’s watch, which takes even “liberalism” to soaring levels. Under former Pres. George W. Bush, the debt grew a modest $4.8 trillion during his eight years in office. And that’s being “conservative?”

Who’s to blame for this fiscal train wreck? It depends who’s doing the talking. Republicans say it’s Obama’s fault for imposing that budget-busting health care plan, and the Democrats’ fault for letting him get away with it. Never mind that Republicans had a majority in Congress during much of Obama’s term, and repeatedly failed to come up with a more cost-efficient system.

Democrats, meanwhile, will say that Republicans are responsible for blowing up the budget with high military spending and tax cuts for the rich. So, the party leaders on each side engage in never-ending fighting, and there’s no progress in the end.

As of yet, neither party has accepted responsibility, or blame, for the natural disasters in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico – or for those raging wildfires in California. Stay tuned, because it’s out of character for Congress to shell out of that money for disaster relief without finding a convenient scapegoat.

Since Republicans control the White House and majorities in the Senate and House, it’s up to Republicans to identify their solutions to the budget crisis. There seems to be some confusion within those ranks. Republicans, who love to talk about waste in government and the need to cut spending, are not using that rhetoric so much these days. The Senate (by a 51-49 vote) approved a $4 trillion budget last week and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky was the only Republican suggesting that the spending level was too high.

Passage of the budget sets the stage for the big-ticket item – a massive tax-reform plan that experts say would grow the deficit by another $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years. Republicans, as you might expect, talk about the growth in the economy that would come from the tax cuts. Critics scoff that it’s another one of those goofy Republican schemes that will help the rich, at the expense of the hard-working middle class. The congressional fighting has just begun.

Members of Idaho’s congressional delegation are not giving up on efforts to cut spending – and they say that the budget blueprint trims some from spending. But there’s only so much discretionary spending to cut, and Congressman Mike Simpson offers a useful reality check.

“If we are serious in getting our fiscal house in order, we must carefully examine mandatory programs that are not a part of the annual budget, and make up almost two-thirds of the federal outlays,” says Simpson, who sits on the Appropriations Committee.

Yes, friends, he’s talking about sacred cows such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

“Reforming these entitlement programs … will require both members of Congress and the American people to make some decisions that they would rather not have to make,” Simpson said. “I’m encouraged that the Republicans’ House budget does just that. It is a crucial first step in the process of reforming our autopilot mandatory spending programs and ending the debt crisis, because it provides a plan by which Congress can stabilize our long-term budget outlook and end the practice of run-away spending in Washington.”

Well … that’s progress if the plan does all that Simpson says it will do.

Sen. Mike Crapo, who sits on the Budget Committee and chairs the banking committee, says the budget plan “proposes appropriate spending restraints and will set the stage for pro-growth tax reform – something that we have badly needed in the country for years.”

Democrats, of course, see things differently – especially on the tax issues. And we’ll be hearing arguments through the mid-term elections as the Democrats try to regain a majority in the Senate. What’s missing from the debate on the Republican side is just how much – if any – the GOP budget and tax plans will reduce the national debt and when Americans will begin to see results.

It’s safe to say that we won’t be seeing that national debt clock ticking in the other direction anytime soon.

Chuck Malloy, a long-time Idaho journalist, is a columnist with Idaho Politics Weekly. He may be reached atThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..