How many politicians does it take to reform entitlements and cut spending? This is not the beginning of a lightbulb joke. Some very respectable people on both sides of the aisle have been waving their hands in the air saying: "Hey, look what's coming!" And our politicians quibble over a billion here and a billion there.

Choose your metaphor. Fiscal tsunami. Entitlement conflagration. Debt cancer. Iceberg. Whatever. It's big and it's no black swan. It's a white, Mothra-sized beast coming to destroy Washington. And when it finishes with Washington it will take out the rest of the economy. America will become, at best, a third-rate country. 

Now they're playing shutdown chicken over chicken-feed?

Here's the venerable Erskine Bowles testifying before some somnambulant committee or other.

As far back as 2007, David Walker was jumping up and down about it. He even made a documentary:

Now, if that weren't enough, John Shoven and George Shultz wrote a book about it:

And as recently as yesterday, Rep. Paul Ryan was waving his hands:

We could watch video after video of people -- from both parties and in good faith -- warning us about the problems ahead. Unfortunately, Washington politicians are short-sighted. They want to punt and punt and punt. Are they afraid the geriatric lobby will kick them off the Hill? Or are they concerned that if they cut spending, that means cutting bureaucrats, which would add to the unemployment roles as an election year approaches? 

Whatever their crude calculations, we've got to punish them -- not for failing to protect short-term government goodies, but for failing to protect our children and grandchildren from our own generation's profligacy. Framed that way, even the AARP lobby might be ready for reform. It's going to take guts. And, as much as I hate the cliche -- bipartisan support. 

Is it going to take calamity to force action?

Max Borders is a writer living in Austin. He blogs at Ideas Matter.