Debt

DEBT…. It looks like the story of the day among conservative bloggers is this CBS News report on the size of the U.S. national debt.

It’s another record-high for the U.S. National Debt which today topped the $12-trillion mark. Divided evenly among the U.S. population, it amounts to $38,974.34 for every man, woman and child.

Technically, the debt hit the new high yesterday, but it was posted on the Treasury Department website just after 3:00 p.m. ET today. The exact calculation of the debt is a 16-digit tongue-twister and red-ink tsunami: $12,031,299,186,290.07

This latest milestone in the ever-rising journey of the National Debt comes less than eight months after it hit $11 trillion for the first time. The latest high-point is not unexpected, considering the federal deficit for the just-ended 2009 fiscal year hit an all-time high at $1.42-trillion — more than triple the previous year’s record high.

It’s more than a little odd to see Republicans rediscover their outrage about deficits, debt, and the burdens of future generations. It was, after all, George W. Bush who added $5 trillion to the debt, after inheriting a quarter-trillion-dollar surplus from the Clinton era, which generated exactly zero criticism from GOP members of Congress.

Indeed, the entire political dynamic of the debate is bizarre. The Bush administration and congressional Republicans supported two costly wars, and added every penny to the debt, becoming the first party in American history to finance military conflicts entirely on credit. These same GOP officials expanded Medicare and created No Child Left Behind, and made literally no effort to pay for either.

And after their policies helped create the most severe economic crisis since the Great Depression, making increased spending and deficits an absolute necessity, Republicans feel comfortable making demands about fiscal responsibility? Seriously?

John Cole added, “I would love to hear how the Republican plan for slashing the deficit and tackling the debt will work. I’m interested in how capital gains tax cuts, making the Bush cuts permanent, ending the ‘death tax,’ continuing the prescription drug plan while ignoring the rising costs of health care, permanent war in the Middle East and privatizing Social Security are going to bring our books back into the black. I’m all ears, guys.”

We all are. Republicans believe they have the credibility needed to address the same budget mess they created. I’d actually love to hear more about this — if they were handed the reins of government immediately, and could do as they please, how would they improve the long-term budget picture?

Tax increases are, they say, out of the question. Cuts to the defense budget, apparently, are also off the table. If this year’s health care debate is any indication, Republicans would also steer clear of any kind of Medicare cuts. The GOP could, I suppose, try to eliminate Social Security altogether, but I don’t think they’d try (and if they did, their efforts wouldn’t go far).

The Republican response is likely to point to some vague “spending cuts,” that excludes the biggest areas of the budget. But let’s not forget that in June, the White House asked GOP lawmakers to come up with some recommended budget cuts. The Republican caucus came up with a “bold” plan that would cut federal spending by about $5 billion a year for five years — far less than the White House plan to reduce spending.

But it’s not too late. Republican policymakers turned a massive surplus into a massive deficit, but they claim they now take fiscal discipline seriously. I’m delighted. They should take this opportunity to put a plan where their rhetoric is.