Our Opinion: When is the breaking point?
We Americans are failing to cope with a serious crisis, and it has little to do with border security. It is the national debt, which topped $22 trillion this week.
For most people, it is difficult to become too concerned about mere numbers on paper or expressed digitally. But the debt is more than that.
Consider just one aspect of the debt: Federal government spending totals about $4.4 trillion a year. Of that amount, more than $523 billion is siphoned off to pay interest on the debt. That is half a trillion dollar that could do any number of good things for Americans — if it were not required to cover overspending in the past.
The high national debt has other unpleasant side-effects. It drives interest rates up. It weakens the value of the U.S. dollar. It gives foreign countries, including China, leverage over us because we rely on them to loan us money.
And at some point, of course, someone will have to pay off the debt.
How serious a commitment is that to you, personally? Well, the $22 trillion amounts to about $67,000 for every man, woman, and child who is a citizen of the United States. That is quite a burden. But wait. It is worse than you may think. Many Americans pay few or no federal taxes. Each taxpayer’s share of the debt is about $179,800.
As one of the nation’s founders, Alexander Hamilton, preached, some national debt may be good for the country. In his time, it helped pay for expenditures such as roads and canals that helped grow the economy. Very little of what Washington spends today serves that purpose.
What is especially distressing to some observers is that the debt has grown by leaps and bounds during recent years. Twenty years ago, the total national debt was just $3.4 trillion.
It grew by nearly $5 trillion on former President George W. Bush’s watch. Former President Barack Obama accelerated the process; the debt increased by about $9.3 trillion during his eight years in office.
And it continues to climb upward — though, fortunately, in a less steep curve. During President Donald Trump’s administration, about $1.1 trillion has been added to what we as a nation owe.
It is not true, as some critics say, that nothing ever seems to happen about the national debt. There is much talk about it, usually when politicians of one party desire to criticize their opponents for new spending initiatives. Both Republicans and Democrats do that, hoping taxpayers will not recall that just a few years before, the party condemning deficit spending was engaged in it.
No one in Washington seems capable of demonstrating the political will to actually hold spending to within our means as a nation. And so, the debt goes up and up and up.
The only question now seems to be: When will it reach the breaking point?