If you and I consistently spend more than we make, we’re probably going to end up in trouble. The federal government just adds onto the national debt. After a huge bump in Covid spending, the nation’s current debt is now around $33 trillion. That’s closing in on $100,000 each owed for every man, woman, and child in America. More from Scott Thuman.
Our national debt has never been higher, and it keeps on climbing. Interest payments alone cost the U.S. nearly $4 billion a day.
To Maya Macguineas, president of the non-profit Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, some belt-tightening in Washington is way overdue.
Scott: What may appear out of control is the national debt. In 50 years, we've gone from $500 billion to $32 trillion. How do we ever dig our way out of that?
Maya MacGuineas: We are in big trouble right now because the norms of fiscal policy are exactly what they should not be. There are times it makes sense. When we are in an emergency like Covid or a huge recession, we absolutely should borrow. There are times when it does not make sense, like the huge growth spurt we had before we went into Covid under President Trump, or the inflationary period we've been having since Covid under President Biden. It's going to mean that we aren't able to be prepared for the next crisis.
Scott: So, in your eyes, have the last two administrations both overseen out-of-control spending?
MacGuineas: Yes, they have. And the truth is that Republicans and Democrats like to cut taxes and grow spending. The bigger issue, though, is neither of them is willing to make changes to the existing problems. We have automatic growth in Social Security, Medicare, other healthcare programs, and now interest on the debt, which are leading to huge structural imbalances that are only going to grow going forward. Neither party has been really willing to take the measures and address all of the policies, meaning every part of the budget, that we have to, to get that budget rebalanced and the borrowing under control.
Scott: The presidency could be one of the hardest jobs on the planet. I think we'd all agree with that. How much harder is the job going to be for whoever's elected in 2024?
MacGuineas: This next president is inheriting a very challenging fiscal situation. First, we just got through the debt ceiling, and luckily, we were able to avoid default and put in place a package of savings, the largest package we've seen in over a decade. But that debt ceiling is going to come along again pretty soon after the new president takes office. I am very concerned that it has come to become such a political hot potato, and there's such a fight over it and a willingness by some to default, that we could really risk default next time.
Scott: But aren't we, as Americans, which of course includes our elected officials, just numb to all this kind of talk by now?
MacGuineas: We are. I mean, I think we're all numb to all of the shouting. First off, we don't really have kind of calm, thoughtful discussions. We have a lot of shouting.
Scott: But then why be optimistic that this is going to be taken seriously?
MacGuineas: Did I say I was optimistic? I am gravely concerned. But I am deeply pessimistic, much more so than I used to be. Because as I said before, I think the biggest problem facing us is our division, our dysfunction, and our inability to govern. If we don't get our act together, we will be a weaker country, and American families will pay a real price in terms of their economic security, their opportunities, and what it looks like, for not just the next generation. I think this could become a big problem sooner than we've been thinking as things heat up around the world.
Keeping the U.S. economy out of a crisis will be a key test for the next president as international challenges continue to mount.
For Full Measure, I'm Scott Thuman in Washington.
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