It happens when Congress lifts the debt limit. The national debt rises.
And last week the national debt saw a record one-day increase of over $339 billion.
That’s not because a lot of money flowed out of the government all at once. The Treasury Department has been using resourceful bookkeeping to keep the debt number down. It stopped doing so with the passage of the Bipartisan Budget Act, and the jump reflects a move to a more accurate debt number.
The debt is now just over $18.6 trillion. That’s about $180,000 per U.S. family or $58,000 per person, twice the number in the picture at the right. (Last week, the debt was $176,400 per family and $56,400 per person.)
Then there’s the question of what the debt should be. Debt hawks would say “ZERO.” The existence of any national debt at all reflects irresponsibility on the part of Congress and the federal government.
Others argue that debt is normal for any organization, including governments. The question is whether the debts were incurred for things that produce more revenue than the debt costs to maintain. A hundred eighty thousand dollars is not unreasonable debt for an increasingly productive family, and $58,000 is not unreasonable for a productive person.
But has government been spending on things that make the country more productive, like infrastructure and stimulus that primes the economic pump? Or has the government been spending on destructive war and indolence-promoting welfare?
These are deep-running questions that go to our national values. Reasonable people hold views on both sides of this question.
And it doesn’t do much good to argue about it. Rather, people of all views should track what the spending goes to and whether they think it’s a good use of their taxpayer dollars.
WashingtonWatch.com offers some aide in this effort, and we working to improve our capabilities. When bills have a cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office, we add that into our database and present a “net present value” calculation reflecting the cost or savings per family, person, and so on. (“Net present value” is the amount you’d have to put in the bank today to fund future spending. It’s a way of presenting lots of different spending numbers as a single amount.)
The CBO doesn’t always produce honest numbers. Sometimes Congress requires it to use “baseline budgeting,” which assumes rising spending amounts so that their reports only reflect changes from that. We working on exposing that type of white lie for you.
You should follow along, decide whether spending meets up with your personal values, and act accordingly. That means voting “yes” or “no” on the bills, commenting to say why you voted as you did, and sharing this information with friends, neighbors, and co-workers. (Try not to annoy your co-workers, of course.)
Politics is social. Talk about the facts you learn on WashingtonWatch.com, Tweet about them, and post on Facebook. This will be more persuasive (if less provocative) than your big-government, small-government opinions and who you love and who you hate in the Republican and Democractic presidential debate. Be persuasive with your knowledge of neutrally-stated facts.
The national debt has gone up. It’s your debt as a taxpayer. Your attention to federal spending should go up and stay up, too.