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A Trillion Here, a Trillion There

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These days we hear a lot of really big numbers being bandied about and it is hard to grasp what they mean. I'd like to have a benchmark or two. You know, like when the travel book tells you that a five star restaurant averages $75 a meal, and the local family restaurant is $12.50. I can look in my wallet and see what fits my resources.

The first benchmark to fix in your mind is how much money does the US Government get from all sources, other than borrowing, each year. It's about $2.4 trillion ($2,400,000,000,000).

The second benchmark is how much the US spends. It's about half a trillion ($500,000,000,000) more than it takes in or $2.9 trillion.

The third benchmark is the amount that the US spends on entitlement programs (social security, medicare, medicaid, government and veterans pensions mainly). Entitlements cost about 1.8 trillion.

Interest on the US debt is about a quarter trillion ($250,000,000,000).

Uncle Sam gives almost all of the money he gets to old folks, veterans, and people who need medical care. What's left, about half a trillion, isn't enough to do everything else. Hell, defense alone costs more than that. So that's why we need to borrow half a trillion a year.

There's a big problem here. It's not sustainable. Back in 2008, before the election, when the Republicans were running things, a nifty little report was published called "The Federal Government's Financial Health" and it said just that -- not sustainable. They were looking at 2007 numbers, before the financial crisis, before the bailout, before the stimulus, and before the Obama budget.

Deficit Spending

The reason it's not sustainable is those entitlements and the interest on the debt are growing fast.

Non-discretionary Costs Drive Overspending

It's crunch time unless we roll back those expenses or jack up taxes. If we jack up taxes, who's going to pay them?

Who Pays for the Federal Government

Well, take a look at your W2 form. See where you fit in the table above. It's you and me who are going to pay, and our kids, and our grandkids. Oh the rich folks will pick up about 2/3's of the tab, just like they have been doing, maybe more if the income tax gets more progressive. But all of us will be paying something, and it will hurt.

And yes we have some hard choices to make. How would you balance the budget? Would you summarize your answer in a sound bite for the 11 o'clock news?


Richmond Shreve is a citizen journalist and former Senior Editor at He is a published author of fiction (Lost River Anthology, Amazon) and training materials (Instructor Candidate Manual, and A retired (more...)

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What happened to all the money people have paid in... by John Lorenz on Saturday, Apr 3, 2010 at 11:24:15 PM
Part of the reason I wrote this article is that I ... by Richmond Shreve on Sunday, Apr 4, 2010 at 7:55:36 PM
... for this very interesting data and for doing t... by Jeffrey Rock on Sunday, Apr 4, 2010 at 8:39:06 AM
The first five rows of the table add to 99.8% whic... by Richmond Shreve on Sunday, Apr 4, 2010 at 7:39:45 PM
I find it a little surprising that our military ex... by PrMaine on Sunday, Apr 4, 2010 at 8:41:10 AM
John Lorenz hit the nail on the head. Mr. Shreve g... by JimZ on Sunday, Apr 4, 2010 at 3:13:06 PM
Your comment goes right to the core of one very ur... by Richmond Shreve on Sunday, Apr 4, 2010 at 8:09:17 PM
I mean, I just don't understand why Obama can't ju... by Jeff Poster on Sunday, Apr 4, 2010 at 5:56:27 PM
I would like to know how much we would have to tax... by Richmond Shreve on Sunday, Apr 4, 2010 at 8:19:46 PM
the CBPP ( is reputed as the ... by JimZ on Sunday, Apr 4, 2010 at 9:12:46 PM