17 July, 2011

U.S. Debt–How We Got Here

This is the first part in at least a 2 part series on our debt limit issues. I will get the second part out either later this evening or tomorrow.

This little tweet set off a bit of a firestorm today. From Ken Gardner:

debt limit increase

This got the attention of Andrew Rosenthal, Editorial Page Editor of the New York Times.


Well, Mr. Rosenthal isn’t entirely wrong here, but to say he’s stretching the truth is putting it mildly.

Let’s get some historical perspective, shall we? In the chart below, all figures are in billions of dollars. I have added dollars allocated to the Global War on Terror to Defense for years that these were separated as different line items. Everything to the left of the Deficit column is what was budgeted. Deficit and Debt numbers are actual (except for 2011 & 2012 where they are obviously projected). Since the Democrats have been awful at preparing budgets under Obama, the numbers get harder to obtain starting in 2011. Links are provided, however.

I chose the line items below because they’re the biggest line items on the budget. For fiscal year 2007, those columns account for almost 86% of the total budget.

Year Total Social Security Defense Medicare Unemp & Welfare Medicaid & SCHIP Interest Deficit Debt
2007 2730 586 549 395 294 276 244 161 8951
2008 2900 608 627 386 324 209 261 459 9986
2009 3107 644 671 408 360 224 260 1413 11876
2010 3552 695 664 453 571 290 164 1293 13528
2011 3820 730 708 491 641* 297 250 1645 15476
2012 3729 761 671 485 711* 269 242 1101 16654


* I’m estimating these based on growth patterns, as I don’t have the budgetary expertise to find the line items for them in the proposed budgets. I could probably figure it out, but it would take me a while, and I don’t really want to invest the time. I suspect that my 2012 line is quite a bit higher than the President’s proposed one, so if you want to take issue with me about that, fine.

As an aside, look at the difference in deficit between FY07 and FY11. A 1000% increase. Nice.

I started with 2007 as that’s the last fiscal year budget with a Republican President and Republican Congress. The Democrats have to take at least their fair share of the blame for 2008 and 2009, and own exclusive control over it from 2010 onwards.

I included 2012, because the President wants any debt limit deal to cover fiscal year 2012.

Now, let’s examine a table based upon the 2007 projections through 2011. The 2007 budget document only goes up to 2011, but that’s far enough to examine what interests us.

Year Total Social Security Defense Medicare Unemp & Welfare Medicaid & SCHIP Interest Deficit Debt
2008 2814 612 506 399 * 218 272 223 9841
2009 2922 645 507 421 * 233 291 208 10437
2010 3061 683 522 447 * 250 307 183 10983
2011 3240 722 539 489 * 270 322 205 11537


I didn’t even try to figure out the Unemployment and Welfare projections. If someone can tease these numbers out of the documents I linked, I’ll gladly update the post.

There are a few points worth making here. First, only the “defense” column can arguably be defined as a GOP sacred cow. The others are all Democrat sacred cows. So, really it’s unfair in the extreme to lay much of our debt woes at the feet of the GOP. However, should you argue that they kept these programs going, so they have to accept part of the blame, you should go by the 2007 projections, as this is the last year the GOP was in control.

Doing so gives a budget total difference of almost $600B for FY2011, and a debt difference of almost $4T at end of FY2011. And we project another $1T in debt in 2012, almost doubling the debt from the end of 2007.

Yes, I know projections are always lowballed, but don’t even try to convince me that they were lowballed to the tune of $4T. I’m not that stupid, and I hope you aren’t either.

So, Mr. Rosenthal is correct that the debt ceiling debate is about old programs, in that we’re not yet trying to raise the debt ceiling to handle the enormous debt load ObamaCare is going to bring or the near exponential growth currently projected for other entitlement programs. But Mr. Rosenthal was completely wrong in the other half of his statement, that most of this is the result of the GOP. Under the GOP numbers we’d still be $3T away from the current $14.3T debt limit.

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