Debt meter just keeps running

Palm Beach Post Editorial

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

In the time it took to type this sentence, the digital numbers on my slick, new, credit-card-size national debt clock rose from $8,165,949,483,500 to $8,165,950,071,500. That long row of numbers, more than $8 trillion, is what the U.S. government owes.

To put it more succinctly, that amount is more than $100,000 for every American family of four, or $27,000 for every man, woman and child in America. At the end of 2005, despite all the warnings of recent years, the debt is growing at the rate of $10,500 per second.

In the four minutes or so it took to write those paragraphs, the mesmerizing digital figures of my keen new debt clock never stopped, rising to $8,165,951,814,500. That's another $2.33 million.

What is Congress doing about it? It congratulated itself last week for cutting the deficit by $40 billion — over five years. It wasn't even cutting, really, since about half the $40 billion is actually new money from higher pension premiums and selling rights to the broadcast spectrum. And shaving $40 billion from the deficit won't reduce the $8 trillion national debt because the $40 billion doesn't come close to balancing even this year's budget, which is still more than $300 billion out of whack.

But Congress isn't through. In January, Congress is about to take up $100 billion in tax cuts. So the deficit — and the debt — probably will go up, not down. "Today's successful vote on the Deficit Reduction Act is a victory for the American people, and for future generations," said Senate Budget Committee Chairman Judd Gregg, a Republican from New Hampshire. "Yes, there is more to be done, but it is a step in the right direction. We simply cannot continue on the path to higher deficits, saddling our children and grandchildren with this generation's fiscal obligations. They deserve better than that." If only.

Not everyone is fooled. Robert Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, told Investors Business Daily that the Herculean struggle needed to pass the modest cuts "makes you wonder if they're ever going to be able to do something substantial."

Just look at what happened when President Bush tried to take on Social Security but tied it to private accounts. That made Democrats think that he really was trying to do away with the whole program, which he probably was. Maybe that's not such a bad idea. Unfixed, Social Security will be a big part of our future debt as the Baby Boomers begin to claim what they thought would be rightfully theirs. You think they rioted during the '60s? Wait till you see them riot in their 60s.

The debt clock came to me courtesy of Mr. Bixby's group, which has enlisted bipartisan support to draw attention to the coming calamity. The group's president is Pete Peterson, a Republican investment banker and former commerce secretary under President Nixon. Speaking last year, he called the term Social Security Trust Fund an oxymoron. "In the first place," Mr. Peterson said. "The Social Security Trust Fund should not be trusted, and it is not funded."

It's the other big entitlement program, Medicare, however, that really alarms economists. Mr. Peterson cited Paul Volcker, the former Federal Reserve chairman, putting the chance of a financial crisis in America at 75 percent in the next five years — and that was last year. The debt will continue to grow as entitlement payments exceed the amount coming in.

As Mr. Peterson said, "We anesthetize the public with highly reassuring long-term statements that the trust funds are solvent for decades. Yet, we do not tell the public that the payroll taxes of our children and grandchildren would have to double to cover the costs of Social Security and Medicare. That is an unthinkable burden."

Two years ago, I wrote about the nation's coming debt burden. Buy gold, I suggested, especially if you doubt the government's ability to exert control over its irrational ways. The national debt stood at $7 trillion then and gold hovered at $350 an ounce. Now, the debt tops $8 trillion, and gold has topped $500 an ounce.

My debt clock makes no sound as its digital numbers flash. As the day ends, it reaches $8,166,193,776,500. That's a quarter-billion higher than the start of the work day. The clock's silent progression doesn't mean Americans shouldn't hear it.

Debt clocks are not for sale, but the Concord Coalition is distributing them free to its members. To sign up, go to


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Dezember 2005

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