Every college student graduating today will leave their carefree university days behind with $30,000 of debt on their shoulders. No, I’m not talking about student loans, but their share of the country’s publicly held debt.
According to President Barack Obama’s administration’s Office of Management and Budget, the country’s publicly held debt for the fiscal year 2010 will total an unprecedented $9.3 trillion. That is the amount by which our cumulative budget deficits have exceeded the rare surpluses throughout our history. As the federal government continues its unprecedented borrowing and spending, that number is projected to rise to $14 trillion in 2015, or 73 percent of our national output.
The problem is, money doesn’t grow on trees — as our parents always told us. The federal government will have to pay back its debt somehow, and that leaves us, the American taxpayers, to foot the bill. The 2010 debt comes out to a whopping $30,000 dollars per man, woman and child — an unconscionable $120,000 for a family of four. In 2015, that burden will rise to $44,000 and $176,000 for the typical family. This is an outrage.
So, how did we get to this place?
When I served in Congress, I often criticized my Republican colleagues for abandoning their erstwhile commitment to fiscal responsibility. I thought we needed to stop the runaway spending and get control of our debt. But Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and company make the Republican big spenders look like rank amateurs by comparison.
First, they continued President George W. Bush’s ill-conceived bailouts of Wall Street, the auto companies and housing giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Then, they passed the $787 billion so-called stimulus, pouring taxpayer dollars into politically motivated and often wasteful projects. These included $3.4 million for a road-passage for turtles in Lake Jackson, Florida, $1 million for a non-existent Oklahoma lake and $100,000 to renovate a privately owned restaurant.
The Democrats in Congress had several opportunities to reverse some of the damage they had caused by ending the $700 billion Wall Street bailout after one year and dedicating the remaining funds to reducing the debt. Despite bipartisan support for this prudent proposal, a majority of Senators voted against the measure, thus renewing the taxpayer-funded bonanza for yet another year.
The administration also passed a whopping $3.6 trillion budget for the fiscal year 2010 and additional spending bills stuffed with wasteful pork projects. At a time when families all across the country were forced to tighten their belts to make ends meet, Congress was letting loose.
To understand how bad Washington’s spending addiction has gotten, it is useful to offer a little historical perspective. Since the end of World War II, every administration has kept government spending at about 20 percent of our domestic output. In 2009 alone, the Democratic-controlled Congress increased spending to about 25 percent of our Gross Domestic Product — that amounts to a 25-percent increase in the size of the federal government virtually overnight!
In 2008, Bush’s final budget deficit totaled $459 billion. Now, that is a lot of money, and Republicans should never have allowed it to get that high. But even that large number constituted only 3.2 percent of GDP. One year of complete Democratic control and our deficit skyrocketed to $1.6 trillion, or nearly an astonishing 11 percent of our GDP in 2009. This is all the more frightening when you consider that Greece is facing the specter of default with a deficit that was 12.7 percent of GDP 2009.
An old adage comes to mind: "When you’re in a hole, the first thing you should do is stop digging." But with the Democrats in control of the entire government in Washington, all Congress has done is dig.
Reigning in out-of-control spending that is creating unsustainable debt should not be subject to political gamesmanship. It is imperative that Washington politicians join together in a bipartisan movement to save our country from financial ruin. For the sake of our children and grandchildren, we simply must stop digging.
Pat Toomey is a former U.S. Representative and a Republican candidate for U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania.