Remember how public anger over the federal debt reaching new sky-high levels last year drove lawmakers into a flurry of discussions about budget controls? Responding to public and international pressure to do something about permanently spiraling deficits, President Obama established a flawed commission to tackle the spending problem. Congress, doing its part, voted for a massive $1.9 trillion increase in the debt limit to $14.3 trillion. That increase was so large it would allow them to spend freely during this election year without upping the limit on the federal credit card again. What’s more, they could use the Obama’s commission as a figleaf of cover towards fiscal responsibility. Bad enough, right? But the real story behind the nation’s debt is far worse.
The debt limit is comprised of two types of debt: debt held by the public and debt held by other governmental entities like the Social Security Trust fund. This measures money lent to the federal government by others as well as money lent from one part of the government to another. But there is much more the taxpayers are on the hook for and it can be found in the Annual Financial Report of the United States Government. The recently released report for 2009 shows that total liabilities are $14.5 trillion, more or less equal to the debt, but up $2.3 trillion from 2008, driven by spending on TARP and declining revenues and tax cuts for low income Americans. However, the long-term excess costs from burgeoning entitlement costs like Social Security and Medicare are $45.8 trillion, up $2.9 trillion – a far larger increase. Along with other commitments and contingencies, the total obligations of the U.S. Government total $63.3 trillion, or $63,300,000,000,000.
If that makes your eyes glaze over, this represents a debt burden of $200,000 for every man woman and child in America. It is a $16,000 jump over last year. This is the real debt that Washington doesn’t want you to know about. This is the real debt that Congress must immediately get serious about. So when Congress passes new spending bills or a massive new entitlement benefit like the health care bill now being debated, they should tell the taxpayers – present and future- how it will affect this real debt – $63.3 trillion, $200,000 for every American.