The National Debt Reaches Another Dubious Milestone

The National Debt Reaches Another Dubious Milestone
Andrew Wilford

The national debt just hit $30 trillion. Unfortunately, when the numbers we’re presented with get to a certain point, our eyes tend to glaze over. After all, one trillion is such an incomprehensible amount that the difference between that and 30 trillion is nearly meaningless in terms of our ability to conceive of it. But when it comes to the ever-increasing government spending, it is important that we do not allow this human psychological tendency to undermine the urgent need to rein in the national debt.

So what does $30 trillion really mean? Well, it’s more than the annual economic production of China, Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom, and India combined. If one takes out the GDPs of the United States and China, $30 trillion is more than the size of the next 14 largest economies combined.

On a micro level, $30 trillion comes out to over $116,000 per adult in America. If you’re thinking that it won’t be you paying that down, consider first that no one is “paying it down” at all—at the end of FY 2019, just over two years ago, the national debt was under $23 trillion. And then consider that even if the government somehow managed to confiscate the total net worth of Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffett (and liquidate it all without losing any value), it would knock a measly 2.5 percent off that $30 trillion figure (or 3 percent off the $24 trillion in debt held by the public if you prefer).
And since no one is talking about how to pay down the debt, the present level of debt still means costs for taxpayers. Already last year, just under 5 percent of your tax dollars went just to paying the interest on the national debt, and that’s with historically low interest rates.
Those costs will only accumulate as the national debt grows. As part of its long-term budget projections, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that 30 years from now servicing the debt will cost far more than Social Security, and nearly exceed the cost of Medicare and Medicaid combined. And that’s assuming spending remains at current levels—an almost wildly optimistic assumption given the recent spending spike during the pandemic and Democratic proposals to massively increase spending.
Unfortunately, it’s clear that there is little appetite in Washington for addressing the debt beyond kicking the can down the road. Back in December, Congress raised the debt ceiling for the 26th time since 1993, when the national debt was around $4 trillion. It now has until February 18th to pass a bill to avoid a shutdown.

This cycle of endless brinkmanship for seemingly no impact on debt and deficit reduction has understandably grown frustrating to taxpayers. Yet bipartisan heads have come up with improvements to the budget process that remain unimplemented.

By far the most comprehensive reform is the Bipartisan Congressional Budget Reform Act, co-authored by Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.). This bill would allow for an easier pathway for debt-reduction legislation while requiring Congress to set and attempt to adhere to debt-to-GDP ratio targets.

However Congress chooses to go about addressing the debt, taxpayers should demand action beyond continuous cycles of shutdowns and short-term funding bills. It’s long past time for Congress to set a clear and attainable path towards fiscal sustainability to provide security for taxpayers and the country for the long haul.

Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
Andrew Wilford is a policy analyst with the National Taxpayers Union Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to tax policy research and education at all levels of government.
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