This past two weeks, the national debt grew by $32 billion – more than $2 billion a day – and Congress and the White House didn’t do much about it.
Instead, this is what happened.
On Jan. 29, the Senate followed the House’s lead and voted to provide what eventually will be more than $50 billion to pay for Hurricane Sandy relief. It also voted against an amendment that would offset the costs for that relief by cutting other areas over the next nine years. Instead, the costs simply will be added to the national debt.
In Arkansas, Sen. John Boozman voted for the amendment and, when it failed, against the appropriation. Sen. Mark Pryor voted against the amendment and then for spending the money.
On Tuesday, Feb. 5, the Congressional Budget Office released a report that the one-year federal budget deficit for 2013 will be $845 billion.
That was sort of good news considering that the deficit has been above $1 trillion each of the proceeding four years. For perspective, $1 trillion is the total amount of debt Uncle Sam accumulated from the country’s founding until 1980. For more perspective, $1 trillion is more than $3,000 for every American – all 300 million of us, including children.
The national debt – that’s all the accumulated deficits of the past 200-plus years – is now more than $16.4 trillion, and it will continue to grow.
That is a big problem, but elected officials in Washington can’t agree on the solutions, which is why the country keeps approaching fiscal crises. A set of automatic spending cuts – the same ones that were supposed to happen in January – are now set to occur March 1. But on Tuesday, the same day the CBO was announcing the news about the $845 billion, President Obama said at the White House that those cuts should not occur – not yet and not this way. He said it would hurt the economy.
On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed what it called the PLAN Act calling on Obama to present a plan to balance the budget – not pay down the debt, just balance the budget – within 10 years.
The House itself has not produced a 10-year plan to balance the budget. The leadership has promised to do so by April 1.
Also on Wednesday, the U.S. Postal Service, which lost $16 billion last fiscal year, announced that it would end Saturday mail delivery in an attempt to save money. So far, its efforts to control costs have been stymied by Congress. Some in Congress will try to stop this.
The postal service is not supported by taxpayers – not yet, anyway. But it suffers the same problem as the rest of the government: too many services operating on too little revenue, with the political system unable to fix the problem.
What else happened the past two weeks? Eight thousand Americans reached age 65 each day. Most are beginning or soon will begin accessing Social Security and Medicare. Each day in the past week, the federal government spent almost $2 billion on defense. It also each day paid $600 million in interest on the national debt, a lot of it to foreign creditors. That’s $2 from each of us every day, just for the interest.
The country has faced greater challenges. Americans have to believe we can overcome this one as well.
But the problems started a long time ago, and it’s going to take more than a couple of weeks to fix them.
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Steve Brawner is an independent journalist in Arkansas. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be followed on Twitter at @stevebrawner.