Editorial: Up, up and way out of hand

The national debt stands at roughly $23.4 trillion. As of Feb. 27, that broke down to $72,327 per citizen or $188,957 per taxpayer. For a truly anxiety-inducing experience, visit usdebtclock.org to watch the tally tick ever higher in real time.

The Congressional Budget Office on Jan. 28 released its “Budget and Economic Outlook: 2020 to 2030.” It projects that the federal government will spend $1 trillion more than it brings in in revenue in 2020 and that the budget deficit will average $1.3 trillion between 2021 and 2030. The national debt is the net of the government’s annual deficits. Deficits are expected to rise from 4.6 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2020 to 5.4 percent in 2030.

According to the report, other than a six-year period during and after World War II, the deficit over the past century has not exceeded 4 percent for more than five consecutive years. When the economy has been strong, as it is now, deficits over the past 50 years have averaged 1.5 percent of GDP.

“This is the first time in our history that we are seeing a boom in the economy at the same time deficits are rapidly rising. It’s alarming,” Marc Goldwein, senior policy director of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, told The Washington Post.

Debt can be a powerful tool. Spending more and/or cutting taxes can stimulate a flagging economy. A threat to national security may necessitate greater military spending. But borrowing in times of need must be balanced by fiscal prudency in times of plenty.

When President Obama took office, the national debt was $10.6 trillion and it had reached nearly $20 trillion when he left the White House. The deficit hit $1.4 trillion during the 2009 financial crisis but had shrunk to $585 billion by the end of Obama’s second term in 2016. While on the campaign trail, President Trump vowed to eliminate deficits altogether within eight years, but the tide has turned in the opposite direction. The federal government is spending more and, due to the 2017 tax cut law, bringing in less.

Meanwhile, the Congressional Budget Office projects economic growth to slow after 2020.

Despite the gravity of the situation, neither our representatives in Congress nor the current crop of presidential candidates are keen to discuss what it would take to shrink the gap between what the government spends and what it brings in. Polls show Americans are concerned about the national debt and deficit, but no one wants to pay higher taxes and many would balk at seeing popular programs slashed.

Still, we cannot spend and spend and not expect the bill to come due.


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