Bill Moyers Essay: The Accumulating National Debt

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Bill Moyers holds the president, Congress and all of us to blame for the escalating national debt.


CHARLES KURALT: The Congressional budget office said today that this year alone the government is going to spend $224-billion more than it takes in. The White House figures the deficit will be a little worse than that, ($)230-billion. Either way, in a time when everybody’s talking about reducing the deficit, the deficit will, in fact, set another all-time record. A revised federal budget balancing law may click in next year to make mandatory budget cuts.

The will of the country to reduce the deficit is the subject of Bill Moyers’ commentary tonight.

BILL MOYERS: Put aside for the moment whether you’re a Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative. Divest yourself of sentiments for or against Ronald Reagan. Think now not as an advocate but as a citizen and look at what’s happening in Washington. Those white marble monuments gleaming in the summer sun are red with the ink of deficit spending.

The scale of debt is beyond my comprehension and probably yours as well. But we do know what it means, from high interest rates to a swollen dollar which makes more difficult the sale of American goods abroad. As foreigners finance the spending we don’t want to pay for, the United States has become the largest debtor nation in the world. Last year we accumulated more foreign debt than any other country in its total recorded history. Since 1981, what we owe is twice what we produce in goods and services. Governments do have more flexibility with debt than ordinary households and economists disagree on one aspect of the debt or another, but chickens do what economists often do not: chickens come home to roost.

Who’s responsible? The President, for one. He told us we could have it both ways-all the defense spending we want and lower taxes. The Congress too, with its charade of accountability, the illusion of bounty that knows no end. Feeling the heat to do something to assuage public outrage over drugs, one prominent Democrat says the price tag isn’t important. We’re not going to quibble and quarrel over a billion dollars, he says.

For such craziness, you and I cannot escape blame. My representative gives me what I ask for and yours obliges you, and each declines to reckon the price of our collective appetites. The subject even bores us. A friend this morning asked the subject of tonight’s commentary. He groaned when I said, “deficits”. “I’m not going
to watch,” he said. I replied that the subject concerns the future of his daughter Emma. Emma is four-and-a-half. “Then she can watch,” he said. Well, Emma, you should give your daddy a kick in the pants. We’re playing with your future and, by the time you come of majority, we may have squandered it.

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