You owe more than $500,000 — and counting

There’s a lot of back and forth about how much the Democrats’ Build Back Better bill would add to the federal debt. So let’s take a quick look at the current federal debt, plus the government’s “unfunded liabilities,” to see how much each of us owes to cover Washington’s debt and long-term obligations. 

The short answer is $572,000. That’s not how much each household or adult taxpayer owes, but each man, woman and child in America — so nearly $2.28 million for a family of four. 

You can make your check payable to the U.S. Treasury.

Or you can learn about the debt problem and support policies that attempt to contain it – and maybe someday reverse the trend – which means opposing Democrats’ spending spree. 

Let’s start with the federal debt. The U.S. Debt Clock puts federal debt at $29 trillion. That’s money that we, as taxpayers, will have to pay at some point in the future — since all government debt is ultimately a claim that must be paid by taxpayers.

The National Debt Clock says that “debt per citizen” is currently $87,124. But there’s more, much more.

That $29 trillion ignores Social Security and Medicare’s current and future obligations. Fortunately, the trustees who oversee those two programs annually estimate how much that is.

Long term, Social Security owes beneficiaries a lot more money than it’s projected to receive from the payroll taxes that fund it. Those future obligations are referred to as unfunded liabilities.

The trustees estimate Social Security’s unfunded liability over both 75 years and what’s known as the “infinite horizon.” The unfunded liability over the infinite horizon is $59.8 trillion.

The trustees also estimate Medicare’s unfunded liability over the infinite horizon to be $103.4 trillion.

If we combine Social Security and Medicare’s unfunded liabilities, we get $163.2 trillion. The National Debt Clock has roughly the same figure: $161.6 trillion. And the Debt Clock calculates the unfunded liability at $484,973 per citizen. 

Since taxpayers will ultimately be responsible for both the $29 trillion federal debt and $163 trillion Social Security and Medicare unfunded liabilities, the present value of those two combined is about $572,000 for every man, woman and child in America — all 330 million of them.

Now, Build Back Better will add to that debt. How much? According to a new and more realistic estimate by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), about $3 trillion over 10 years, which is the time span the CBO usually considers when “scoring” (i.e., estimating the financial impact) proposed legislation.

Even though Democrats say BBB is “paid for” – meaning new taxes will offset the new federal spending over the next 10 years – no honest person actually believes that. Democrats have imposed time limits on some of the new programs just to say the bill is paid for. But they want (and fully expect) to extend those programs indefinitely, with little or no thought to the fiscal impact on the federal budget.

They did something similar with the Affordable Care Act (i.e., ObamaCare). The legislation initiated many of its new taxes immediately, but delayed its most costly benefits for four years. In other words, ObamaCare imposed 10 years of taxes to pay for six years of benefits and claimed the bill was paid for. ObamaCare’s second 10 years will add a lot to the federal debt. 

And don’t forget, that $3 trillion only estimates the budget impact of extending programs actually included in BBB. Many Democrats wanted a lot more. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) wanted to add dental, vision and hearing coverage to Medicare. Those additions were estimated to cost $350 billion, so Democrats dropped it — for now. 

At some point someone has to get serious about government spending and just say “No!” And not just with regard to the $29 trillion federal debt, but all of the federal government’s current and long-term financial obligations. And there’s no better time than now, beginning with Build Back Better.

Merrill Matthews is a resident scholar with the Institute for Policy Innovation in Dallas, Texas. Follow him on Twitter @MerrillMatthews.

Tags Bernie Sanders CBO Congressional Budget Office Deficit reduction in the United States economy Economy of the United States Government debt National debt of the United States Social Security United States federal budget United States fiscal cliff

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