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U.S. National Debt:


By Senator Mike Crapo

What's a trillion? National Public Radio's Science Friday calculated that one trillion dollars would buy 1,000 boxes of Girl Scout cookies for every person in the United States. A Massachusetts Institute of Technology researcher calculated that a trillion grains of Morton salt would fill an elementary school classroom. Salt and cookies, in reasonable amounts, are not bad things. The same goes for federal budget expenditures. But a $3.1 trillion dollar budget for Fiscal Year 2009 exceeds comprehension and reason.   


The short- and long-term economic and spending realities that accompany this astronomical budget are dismaying.  In the short term, we're facing a serious slowing of our economy. In the long term, there will be a critical shortage in entitlement programs due to population changes and the fact that, among other things, these programs use funding models decades that are out-of-date. Considering the tightening economy and increasing strains on the federal budget, we cannot realistically entertain tax increases or continue to spend beyond our means. That's how we got here in the first place. Not only do we need to control taxation and spending, we must firmly address a rapidly-approaching unsustainable Medicare and Medicaid system and fiscal challenges to Social Security. This year, entitlement program spending and national debt interest payments account for almost two-thirds of the budget. As in past years, costs associated with entitlement programs are growing, not stabilizing or shrinking-Social Security Trustees predict that the Social Security Trust Fund will be exhausted in 34 years. 


Since the President released his Fiscal Year 2009 Budget, the Budget Committee has held a series of hearings to determine a spending plan for Congress, whose job it is to responsibly allocate hard-earned taxpayer dollars. In a recent Finance Committee hearing, I asked Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson about one proposal in the President's budget that aims to reduce the rate of growth in Medicare spending by just 2.2 percent over the next five years. Secretary Paulson reaffirmed the increase in Medicare costs due to demographics and health care costs and observed that this slight reduction in growth--$178 billion over the next five years-will address $34 trillion in as-yet-unfunded Medicare costs predicted to accumulate over the next 75 years.


In addition to producing a responsible budget with well-defined spending parameters, my colleagues and I on the Budget and Finance committees have an obligation to put partisan politics aside and seriously discuss our nation's tax policy. I've been asked to serve on the Senate Republican Fiscal Reform Working Group, which was created by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell to make recommendations on how to bring greater transparency and taxpayer confidence to federal spending. As a fiscal conservative and strong advocate for public accountability, I'm looking forward to doing just that. Concerning tax reform, I continue to support legislation to permanently repeal the Alternative Minimum Tax and make tax relief from 2001 and 2003 permanent. The Chairman of the Finance Committee, Senator Max Baucus from Montana, has promised to work on compromise legislation to address the unfair, disastrous death tax. 


As the Senate sets its federal budget blueprint for FY 2009, I intend to be a voice for restraint and responsible spending. As demonstrated by a few unconventional illustrations above, a trillion doesn't have much meaning in the context of our daily lives. But the fact is our nation runs on a budget of that magnitude, and we need to aggressively monitor and responsibly direct how those dollars are collected and spent.