Getting The Debt Debate In Perspective
by Francie Grace
We'll be hearing a lot about the federal budget in the next week – but how much of the debate will actually help Americans figure out their choices?
President Obama will be formally submitting his budget on Monday, with proposals from Republicans already circulating. But with all the highly wonky plans and counter-plans, and the inside-the-Beltway debates over debt ceilings and resolutions, what gets lost is that the budget debate is about setting priorities – and the public needs to play a role in setting them.
Projections show the national debt will be nearly as big as our entire economy in as little as 10 years, and that more than 90 cents of every tax dollar will be taken up by rising costs for Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid and interest on the money we've already borrowed. If we're going to change those projections, it'll help to act sooner rather than later. Yet we're also facing a frail economy, high unemployment and lots of needs the government has to meet.
Fortunately, we've got some resources to guide you through the blizzard of billion-dollar numbers you'll be hearing in the next week:
- For a start, try Six Questions to Ask About the Federal Budget, developed as part of the Choosing Our Fiscal Future initiative, a partnership between Public Agenda and the National Academy of Public Administration, which includes a web site, Facebook page and Twitter feed. The questions go to the fundamental problems driving the nation's budget problems, and give you a yardstick to decide whether a budget proposal hits the mark.
- For many people, the real dangers posed by a rising national debt are still hard to grasp. In Five Ways the Growing National Debt Can Hurt Us, we set out some of the key risks the nation could face if we allow the debt to stay on its current course.
- And for more insight into the fiscal crisis, check out the new, updated version of Where Does the Money Go? Your Guided Tour to the Federal Budget Crisis, an irreverent, nonpartisan guide to the debate. It's a quick read, but if you're really pressed for time, a nice first stop for wrapping your mind around the debate is WhereDoesTheMoneyGo.com, where you'll find all sorts of useful features including a worksheet to try balancing the budget yourself; Where In The World Is the Debt, a guide to who's lending money to the U.S.; a slideshow; and a video: just three minutes long, but full of things to get you thinking.