HomeFiscal Future Daily: The Road Behind Us

Fiscal Future Daily: The Road Behind Us

AUTHOR: FiscalFutureDaily, Site Administrator
May 03, 2011

How did we get here? A decade ago, the budget agencies were projecting huge surpluses, now we face a national debt that all the experts agree is “unsustainable.” We’re always talking about the choices involved in getting out of our fiscal problems; now the fiscal program at the Pew Charitable Trusts has come up with a chart showing the choices that got us into them in the first place.

The beauty of charts is that they can offer a sense of proportion. You can’t attack our fiscal problems without knowing what’s big and what’s small (and frequently people misunderstand what’s big and small about the budget.) So, based on Congressional Budget Office data, here is Pew’s analysis of what’s driven the increase in our debt:

If you look at the full report on The Great Debt Shift, Pew concludes that two-thirds of the increase in the debt since 2001 has been because of legislation passed: either tax cuts or spending increases. But on the other hand, it’s a cumulative development: while some decisions are bigger than others, no one decision explains it all, whether it’s the Bush tax cuts, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, or the economic stimulus package.

And of course, this chart just represents the past. The future, according to agencies like the Government Accountability Office and the CBO, is going to be driven by rising health care costs and an aging population.

But the report is also a reminder: if it took lots of decisions to get into this mess, we also have lots of options to get out of it, as well.

Join the discussion! Your voice is important. You can comment here at www.OurFiscalFuture.org, on Facebook, and on Twitter. And to learn more about the numbers that set the stage for some of our choices, check out our slideshow, iPhone and Android apps, and Our Fiscal Future’s Visual Budget Tool.

Fiscal Future Daily is produced by Public Agenda for Choosing Our Fiscal Future, in partnership with the National Academy of Public Administration and with support by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The editor in chief is Scott Bittle, with contributors Francie Grace, David White, Jen Vento, Hart Hooton and Tom Watson.

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