Tom Purcell: Our national debt is out of control, but nobody seems to care |
Tom Purcell, Columnist

Tom Purcell: Our national debt is out of control, but nobody seems to care

Tom Purcell

Breaking news: Federal spending is out of control.

I’m kidding, of course. Spending, deficits and debt have been out of control for years. It’s just that last week we broke yet another record.

For the first time in our nation’s history, federal spending topped $3 trillion in a fiscal year’s first eight months, according to last week’s Monthly Treasury Statement.

How much is $3 trillion? According to Kiplinger, $3 trillion would pay the salaries of every member of the U.S. Congress for the next 32,336 years.

Of course, the issue isn’t just what the U.S. government spends. It’s what the government spends relative to the tax revenue it takes in. In that regard, there’s some good news and some bad news.

The good news: The economy is doing well, causing tax revenue to swell. During this fiscal year’s first eight months, federal tax revenues were the second highest ever collected (they were down slightly from last year’s record amount).

The bad news: Our government continues to spend way more than it takes in — about $800 billion more during this fiscal year’s first eight months, despite tax revenue pouring in.

That $800 billion adds to our national debt, which now stands at a whopping $22 trillion.

How much is $22 trillion? If you were to repay $22 trillion at $220 million every day, it would take 273 years to pay off the balance — on an interest-free loan!

In other words, we have a massive spending, deficit and debt problem, but few people seem to worry about it anymore.

A recent Wall Street Journal article, “How Washington Learned to Love Debt and Deficits,” sheds light on the regrettable lack of interest in taming our growing debt.

“In theory, an increased supply of government bonds — sold to raise funds when spending exceeds revenues — should increase government borrowing costs,” write Kate Davidson and Jon Hilsenrath. “Theory also says big deficits crowd out business borrowing and increase private borrowing costs, too. The opposite has happened.”

What has happened is that the economy expanded by a robust 5.2% last year while the cost of government borrowing remained relatively low — one reason why immediate concerns over spending, deficit and debt concerns have waned.

How long we can get away with heavy borrowing is anyone’s guess. As baby boomers retire in big numbers, the costs of Social Security, Medicare and other government programs will soar. We already are NOT able to pay our bills. The Congressional Budget Office estimates we will begin falling $1 trillion short in 2022 and keep falling short by that amount annually through 2029.

Even this English major can calculate that our national debt may stand at $33 trillion or more by 2030.

How much is $33 trillion? It’s $30 trillion more than the debt was in 1989, $28 trillion more than it was in 1999, $21 trillion more than it was in 2009 and $11 trillion more than it is now.

It worries me that I’m one of the few Americans left who worries that our deficits, spending and debt are out of control.

So I may as well have some fun with the subject.

If the U.S. government printed $1 million bills, a whole bathtub’s worth of them wouldn’t equal $1 trillion. And 33 bathtubs full of $1 million bills won’t be enough to cover our national debt in 2030.

Freelance writer Tom Purcell of Library is author of “Misadventures of a 1970s Childhood.” Visit him on the web at

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.