Wednesday, January 02, 2008

What Always Goes Up

It is January 2, 2008.

In the sober (one hopes) light of day, many citizens pause for a moment to assess the damage to credit card limits and cash-on-hand in the post-holiday period.

As children, we thought that what goes up must come down. For the most part, this is true in daily life. Throw a ball in the air and it will fall back to earth in accordance with the laws of physics. Laws of finance come into play when you spend money, thereby increasing your debt. Alas, sooner or later the bills come due and are paid -- or you declare bankruptcy. Either way, debt is reduced, although in the latter case other laws come into force.

Except if the "you" is the federal government. But even government can pay off its debt. Bill Clinton managed to lower the total debt of the United States during his years in office, reversing 12 years of heavy spending and rapidly increasing debt. When George Bush entered the White House some economists were projecting that the entire debt of the federal government could be erased in a decade. (Some pundits argue that Clinton's "achievement"was not what it seemed, for the figures used for the debt did not include the interest on the debt accrued by Clinton's predecessors.)

Under George Bush, the cost of everything seems to have always been in one direction – up, and up “”bigtime.”

In the 6 years and months of the Bush administration (January 20, 2001 – August 22, 2007), the nation debt rose by$3.25 trillion to a total of $8.98 trillion – an increase of 36%. If current spending trends persist, by the time Bush completes a full eight years in office on January 20, 2009, he will have added more to the national than have all his predecessors combined.

Mandatory Medicare costs and Social Security obligations are significant contributors to the increasing debt, but so is something wholly owned by George Bush: the "global war on terror." How much is being added? For Operations Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan) Noble Eagle (DoD contribution to defending the homeland) and other security improvements: $804.2 billion so far, according to the Congressional Research Office on a November 2007 publication.

And how does that total accumulate? By spending $15.8 billion each and every month on war -- plus spending $481 billion for "routine" military requirements.

Ironically, the person who blew the whistle on the monthly costs of the war is the same person who brought (bought?) the American public the (in)famous "bridge to nowhere," Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska. According to the Defense Department average monthly costs in Fiscal Year (FY) 2003 for Iraq, Afghanistan, and other "global war on terror" activities stood at $6.2 billion. By FY2005, it was $7.7 billion and by August 2007, the FY 2007 "burn rate" was $11.4 billion. But DoD did not include the $30 billion in "classified activities" or congressional action that adds funds for war-related purposes that the Pentagon considers "normal" procurement.

Given that the average Member of Congress -- let alone the average citizen -- doesn't know what the Pentagon includes or excludes, how does the Senator get to $15.8 billion? He goes to the administration's FY2008 war fighting total request, which is $189.3 billion. Divide that by twelve and he gets $15.775 billion.

Close enough for government work.

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