IDEMA: Our $17,000,000,000,000 national debt

President Obama signed the 2014 farm bill into law recently at Michigan State University — $100 billion a year for the next decade. The bill supposedly will reduce our deficit by $17 billion per year.
Feb 26, 2014


On the negative side, the bill will cut $8.6 billion from the food stamp program over the next 10 years. Hardly a compassionate cut.

My deeper concern, however, is the fact that this bill — with plenty of pork in it — will add to our national debt, which is now over $17 trillion. The bill might slow the rate of debt increase, but does not begin to pay down our national debt. Is slowing the rate of increase a reason to celebrate?

Are we going the way of pre-Hitler Germany?

The German mark before World War I had an exchange rate to the U.S. dollar of 4-2, when both countries were on the gold standard. When the Allies demanded that Germany pay war reparations that it could not pay, Germany began to devalue its currency. In other words, they printed money. Sound familiar?

By Nov. 5, 1923, the price of a 2-kilo loaf of bread had soared from 20 billion marks to 140 billion — which, not surprisingly, sparked nationwide riots. On Nov. 12, an American dollar would fetch 630 billion marks. Inflation and the rich getting richer were now shaping German society. Hitler blamed this concentration of wealth on the Jewish bankers and promised to stem inflation.

How can we as a country allow our government to keep on printing money and borrowing from foreign nations? Not only that, interest rates are being kept artificially low, in part to keep low our interest payment on our national debt. Can you imagine paying interest on a $17 trillion debt at historically normal interest rates?

I fault both political parties for this dismal scenario. The only time the national debt is talked about is when the debt ceiling comes up for debate, which is a debate whether to pay the bills for things already spent. The time to get upset about the national debt is now, so cuts in spending can be put in place to make another debt ceiling debate in March of 2015 no longer necessary because the national debt will be going down — if we begin to cut spending. 

In order to reduce the national debt, we also need to revise our tax code to make it more fair and bring in revenue from closing all the loopholes.

Where is the moral outrage at our national debt? I do not see it. The media rather focus on murder trials or the Super Bowl.

I was born in 1947. The average income was $2,854, a new car cost $1,290, a loaf of bread was 13 cents, a gallon of gas was 15 cents, a new house was $6,650. And the minimum wage was 40 cents an hour. Look where we are today, 67 years later!

Whoever would have thought in the ‘50s that to be very rich in 2014 you must be a billionaire, or whatever it takes to be a member of the 1-percenters?

To be millionaire used to mean something. Now, the football coaches at Michigan and Michigan State make over $10,000 a day, and many baseball players make much more than that. What has happened to our society?

Do our churches deal with these issues from the pulpit?

When a government continues to print money to pay its debts and cover up its sins, is it any surprise that the 1-percenters have the ability to get much of this cash splashing around into their own bank accounts? The middle and lower classes have no such ability, and thus their wealth has been stagnant for 20 years.

When President Reagan took office, the national debt was $700 billion. Look at what we have done to our burden of debt since the ‘80s. Presidents of both parties have shown little willingness to make the reduction of debt a priority — not simply reducing the annual deficit but tackling the national debt. Our federal government is truly addicted to spending.

The heart of western religions — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — is morality. The moral issue of our times, in my view, is our national debt. 

If we think what happened to Germany after World War I cannot happen here, then we are as blind to the consequences of debt as the world was in 1923 leading up to World War II, a war in large part caused by Germany's war debts and hyperinflation.

— By the Rev. Henry Idema, Tribune religion columnist



Your column is right on the mark - although it's hard to ignore the fact that President Obama has added more to the National Debt than any other President and his budget reportedly is going to push it even higher. It also should be added that Conservatives and Libertarians (and the Tea Party) have been railing about the size of the debt for years, and should have been more vocal as the debt was significantly increased under President Bush.

That said, maybe folks would pay more attention, and hold the politicians feet to the fire if they looked at actual impacts of this kind of debt.

For those who believe the National Debt is not an important issue, consider that Obama's proposed budget for 2014 dedicates (as it must) 6% of the total budget to the payment of INTEREST on the debt.

This expenditure is more than the President proposes to pay for each of the following priorities:

Veterans Benefits
Food & Agriculture
Housing & Community
Energy & the Environment

Also consider the CBO predicts the interest payment will quadruple over the next 10 years.

The time for concern is well past; the time for action is NOW, and it starts with replacing the big spenders in Congress, of both parties.


But can't we just print more money?


no problem, are great great great grankids have got it covered . . .


There is nothing anyone can do about it. So many people vote for who they think is the right candidates and still nothing happens. Debt keeps growing. So then just let it crash - keep printing money. No voter is going make any difference. The candidates with PAC monies getting elected automatically every time and the system goes on with em, or without em or in spite of them. Who cares! Just let it grow like a level 5 Blastoma. No one can solve this - just let it go to the dogs.


No stopping this administration..Everyday something new that hurts our Country..Latest is reducing our military including reducing the states National Guards and then introducting a 300 bil roads program today..People should see the movie 'Odumbo 2016' to understand where this guy is comming from..

But then the uneducated public will re-elect the Liberals..

Who can say no to Santa Claus..


The Federal Debt began to seriously increase in 1980 under Reagan, and then climb steadily under Bush 1 & 2. In fact, under those three presidents alone, the debt ceiling was raised 28 times. Contrast that with the combined 8 times under Clinton and Obama thus far. Under all three Republican presidents since 1980, the increase in debt was a direct result of dual policies: a.) Dramatically decreased revenues, and, b.) Increased spending. The most recent jump in the Federal Debt was the Great Recession of 2007-09 which crashed the economy and paved the way for the excessive debt increase which Obama inherited.

Currently in Congress, there is a toxic culture of a refusal to meet the challenges of a $17 trillion Debt through compromise or common sense. A case in point: the 2013 threat by Tea Party Republican Caucus to refuse to increase the debt ceiling if the ACA was not repealed. Not only was this in defiance of the 14th Amendment, and borderline criminal in the face of the fact that the ACA would not be repealed (and they knew it), but also the simple fact that Treasury securities are considered the safest on Earth - the US Treasury simply can not fail to pay back holders of it's securities. To threaten default demonstrates an appalling lack of understanding and/or concern for the global implications of such an action.

These Republican Deniers - many of whom deny evolution, climate change, defy the Constitutional obligations of the 14th Amendment, who in the midst of the greatest recession in 80 years publicly stated that their sole goal was to make Obama a one-term president, who believe the Federal Government is but an intrusion on the will of the People - are guilty of subterfuge, at the very least.

Obama risked the ire of his own Party with his attempts to craft a "Grand Bargain" with Republicans, offering many compromises that had liberals apoplectic. He was repeatedly rejected because Republicans had placed their allegiance to Grover Norquist for no new revenues over any Oath of Office to meet the most serious of challenges - the honest attempt to find solutions to the Federal Debt.

Neither political party is blameless for the increase in the Federal Debt, but the current political environment tells me that the chances of any significant, serious solutions to the debt problem are about zero to nil.

Tri-cities realist

I find it interesting to note who controlled the house and senate, which as we know controls the purse. That said the VAST majority of legislators from BOTH parties are over spenders.


A visit to Lanny's deflective Twilight Zone:

1. Obama inherited a National Debt of $10.6 Trillion - he added $6+ Trillion in 5 years, far more than any President, but Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George Bush are to blame. See National Debt has increased more under Obama than under Bush

2. The House of Representatives performing its Constitutional Responsibilities is a violation of the 14th Amendment.

3. Refusing to raise the Debt Ceiling somehow contributes to increasing the National Debt.

And in this Alternative Universe, a real solution for reining in the National Debt disappears into the ether.

In 2010 Obama commissioned the Simpson-Bowles "National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform."

The Commission did its job and recommended, among other measures:

$200 billion reduction per year in discretionary spending. The highlights of the cuts include a 15% reduction in defense procurement, closing one third of overseas bases, cutting the federal workforce by 10% and eliminating earmarks.
$100 billion in increased tax revenues. Proposed avenues of this tax include a 15 cent per gallon gasoline tax and the cancelation of tax deductions like the home mortgage interest deduction.
Maintain the Obamacare Medicare cost controls and consider the public option for health care reform.
Reduce entitlements like farm subsidies, student loan subsidies, and federal pensions (both military and civilian)
Raise the retirement age for Social Security and raise the payroll tax.

Cut the corporate tax rate from 35% to 26%

Obama totally ignored the recommendations of his own Commission

The recommendations were never submitted to the Congress because, according to its rules, 14 out of 18 Commission Members had to approve it.

Only 11 members supported it - 4 "No" votes were liberal democrats (including the one union representative - SEIU) and 3 were conservative republicans. Of course, noting stopped Obama from taking his beloved "Executive Actions" and at least including the recommendations in his budget, but . . . . Crickets.

Warren Buffett -"I think what happened with Simpson-Bowles was an absolute tragedy. I mean here are two extremely high-grade people. They have somewhat different ideas about government but they’re smart. They’re decent. They’ve got good senses of humor, too. They’re good at working with people.
They work like a devil for ten months or something like that. They compromise. They bring in people as far apart as Durbin and Coburn to get them to sign on and then they’re totally ignored. I think that’s a travesty.” (CNBC’s “Squawk Box,” 11/12/11)

And now, to demonstrate his seriousness about curbing the National Debt, Obama declares that his first five years have been an "Age Of Austerity" and his budget will propose even further increases to the National Debt.

Obama and Lanny must inhabit that same Alternate World.


Simpson-Bowles Commission: It is widely acknowledged that Tea Party Paul Ryan pretty much killed it. "His speech can be judged using Orwellian standards. It's beyond hypocritical. It's repeatedly and cynically dishonest."

Norm Ornstein, a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, agreed.

"I found it utterly hypocritical, and it was at a minimum disingenuous not to mention his membership on the commission," Ornstein said. "The reality is that the three House Republicans who voted against it, unlike the Senate Republicans, were instrumental in keeping the plan from coming directly to Congress. They were not alone, to be sure, since they were joined by some House Democrats, and the president deserves chastisement for not endorsing at least the plan's structure in the subsequent State of the Union.


It is true that President Obama did not endorse the recommendations of Simpson-Bowles in their entirety. The president disagrees with the depth of the commission’s recommended cuts to defense and Social Security. Simpson-Bowles also raises about $600 billion more in revenue over the next decade than President Obama’s plan, including net tax increases on the middle class. The independent Congressional Budget Office agrees that the president’s plan will stabilize the debt as a share of our economy.

But President Obama’s plan reflects the same balanced approach that avoids asking only one group of Americans to shoulder the burden of deficit reduction and protects investments in our future. Commission co-chair Erskine Bowles has written that “the president does support the general framework of the ‘Simpson-Bowles Plan,’ and he is willing to do his part to put our fiscal house in order.”

If you're interested in the real story between Ryan and Obama:


So, in another visit to your Alternative Universe, it's Paul Ryan's fault that three liberal democrats and Andy Stern of the SEIU voted against the recommendations of Obama's Commission, and that Obama refused to back his Commission's plan.

Your excuses for Obama keep getting sillier and less credible.


Paul Ryan is just another hit man for the Big Boys. Your reframing the issue to place the entire blame on Obama for not adopting the Simpson-Bowles original plan is just more echo chamber verbiage from another ditto head. (See - I can be insulting, too!!) Paul Ryan welched on his mission because his feelings got hurt when Obama spoke the truth about his nonsensical budget plan, so they didn't get enough votes to send it to Congress. Of course the Dems didn't like the plan - too many safety net cuts.

So while Nero fiddles, the US debt increases and you get to blame Obama - you should be thrilled and singing my praises. But better hurry - time is running out! Obama has incorporated many of the proposals in the later Simpson-Bowles Plan, omg Vlad will have to scrounge around for different material to skewer Obama. Nooooooo.......


Are we going the way of pre-Hitler Germany? More like we are headed the way of current Germany. Our debt may seem bad if you simply look at the raw number of $17,000,000,000,000. But you must consider that America has by far the worlds largest economy. If you look at debt in a logical way then currently Germany actually has a higher debt than America. For example Germany has a debt of 2,592 billion USD, however, they also have a much smaller economy than America, so their debt as a percentage of GDP is 81.70%. This is actually higher than in America where our debt as a % of GDP is only 73.60%.

Tri-cities realist

While your percentages appear to be correct, Germany's GDP and debt are in the trillions, not billions.


2,592 billion = 2.592 trillion. That is literally kindergarten level math.

Tri-cities realist

My bad, when thinking of Germany my mind substitutes the comma for a period, as is customary in Germany. So I read your 2,592 billion as 2.592 billion. Again my apologies.


Have we forgotten the cost of a 6 trillion dollar unfunded war (wars). Or was that intentional.


We clearly have forgotten that the "Authorization For Use of United States Armed Forces" against Afghanistan passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 420 Yeas 1 Nay and 10 not voting; it passed the Senate by a vote of 98 Yeas 0 Nays 2 not present/not voting.

The Authorization for use of force against Iraq passed the House 297 Yeas, 133 Nays, 3 not voting, and the Senate 77 Yeas , 23 Nays.

It's also interesting to see what the sentiments were prior to the Authorization:

This after prominent Democrats constantly pushed for action


I don't think anyone in the country opposed seeking out Osama bin Laden after 911. It was the abrupt departure mid-stream when Special Forces had Osama in their sites and were ordered to retreat so we could invade Iraq that things began to unravel. Iraq was the Stupid War that Obama famously labeled, and which got him elected.

Yes - Congress voted to enter Iraq, but the votes were based on lies made by Bush, Cheney, Colin Powell, Rice, and others, who took advantage of the high degree of fear and the solidarity of the need for retribution.


Still living in that Alternative Universe - George Bush ordered the military to let Osama go "so we could invade Iraq." Do Do Do Do, Do Do Do Do!

Let's see some legitimate links to prove both of these outrageous and untrue allegations.


The one legitimate news link you provided, the NY Times says absolutely nothing about "Special Forces had Osama in their sites and were ordered to retreat so we could invade Iraq" In fact, no one had Osama in their "sites" (sic) and the report indicates that the Bush Administration contested whether the evidence supported that Osama was there. Your allegation is not true.

Let's look at the opportunities to get Osama before September 11, 2001.

"That would have been during Clinton's presidency, signaling a failure of leadership that brings to three the number of lost opportunities to take out bin Laden before he could strike in 2001.

After Clinton ignored this information — and the FBI he led ignored the agent's contributions and denied him a promotion, in addition to "forgetting" to mention it all to the 9/11 commission — Clinton went on to ignore even clearer opportunities to take bin Laden out as a threat, focusing instead on domestic politics and the great health care battle in the era of "irrational exuberance."

In 1996, the Sudanese government offered to arrest and execute bin Laden, rather than let him escape to Afghanistan, a failed state where he could set up a base.

Clinton told them no.

Then in 2012, a top CIA counterterror official, Hank Crumpton, told CBS's 60 Minutes that in 1999, the CIA had bin Laden in its sights in Afghanistan, where his convoy had been identified. Drones showed clear images of his face. But Clinton refused that chance to act, too.

"The optics were spot-in, it was beaming back to us, CIA headquarters," Crumpton told CBS. "We immediately alerted the White House, and the Clinton administration's response was 'Well, it will take several hours for the TLAMs, the cruise missiles launched from submarines, to reach that objective. So you need to tell us where bin Laden will be five or six hours from now."


I noticed all you experts discuss times from Reagan foward but never mention the horrible mess Jimmy Carter(runner-up for baddest of the bad Presidents)left Reagan and the Country..Can you imagine if a Odumbo followed Carter where we would be today..That 17 Trill would look small..

Tri-cities realist

Good point. Perhaps those who neglect the years prior, were born 1980 or later, so they think that is when the world started. But if they were born prior to 1980, you better ask them about their amnesia!


Actually, the public debt under Carter increased just 42.3%, as opposed to Reagan's 186%. The public debt as a share of GDP was reduced under JFK, LBJ, Carter, and Clinton, and increased as a share of GDP under Reagan, Bush 1 & 2.

By the "mess" of the Carter years you refer to, you must mean the recession of 1980. That was caused primarily by contradictory monetary policy by the Federal Reserve and the energy crisis and OPEC.


And Obama raised the National Debt in 5 years more than any other President in our history.

And now Jimmy Carter wasn't responsible for anything that happened on his watch. I'd re-think that one if I were you - Jimmy Carter is the only possible contender outside of Obama for the "Worst President in Our History" award. If you let him off the hook, Obama will take the honors unopposed.


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