$10 Trillion and Counting

On Tuesday night PBS Frontline is going to examine the incredibly upside-down state of federal government spending. More info here. You should watch it and also watch the coverage of this issue.

From the email promo for the Frontline special:

Among the unpleasant truths Americans are facing are trillion dollar plus current budget deficits and a total national debt which serves as the title for Tuesday’s FRONTLINE, “Ten Trillion and Counting.”

Beyond these stunning numbers, there’s more: huge unfunded promises the nation has made to current and future retirees. Combined, these stupendous amounts of money stagger the imagination. But don’t let your eyes glaze over. Our report offers you a primer on just how we got ourselves into such a mess and the huge gamble the new administration is taking to try and get us out of it.

The journey begins as correspondent Forrest Sawyer takes us to a secret location – the Treasury’s debt auction room where every day the U.S. sells T-bills and bonds which, along with interest, are guaranteed by the “full faith and credit of the U.S.” So far, we’ve been able to rely on foreigners to buy these obligations, and that’s how year after year we close the deficit gaps in our national budget. It isn’t free money – huge interest payments must be made and foreign governments are beginning to lecture us about getting our financial house in order.

Warns Wall Street Journal reporter David Wessel, “The status quo is not gonna work. Anybody who thinks about that realizes that the U.S. government cannot go on every year borrowing more money than it did the year before.”

Yet more borrowing is exactly what the Obama administration plans to do: hundreds of billions to bail out the banks and other financial institutions; tens of billions more for the auto industry; new billions for beleaguered homeowners; and a giant $800 billion stimulus package to jump start an economy spiraling downward. Just like the Bush administration before it, Obama and his team are going to borrow big and make promises about cutting the yearly deficit later on.

Years ago, there was a famous cartoon caption which read: “We have met the enemy and he is us.” FRONTLINE asked policy expert Maya MacGuiness, who heads up the Committee for a Responsible Budget, about our own role as voters in piling up the deficits. She said: “…we want it all. We want our tax cuts and want them to be big. We want new spending programs, we want every person cared for, we want government investment – but we don’t want to pay for it.”