Sunday, September 2, 2007

On Aug. 23, the national debt officially reached $8.98 trillion. That level represents an increase of $3.25 trillion (57 percent) since Jan. 20, 2001, when George W. Bush became the 43rd president of the United States. Between now and Sept. 30, the end of fiscal 2007, the national debt should increase by another $40 billion. The White House’s recent Mid-Session Review estimated that the national debt will increase $565 billion in fiscal 2008. (That’s more than $300 billion higher than fiscal 2008’s projected unified budget deficit of $258 billion.)

Now comes a leak from the White House revealing that the president will soon be requesting an additional $50 billion in spending in fiscal 2008 for the war in Iraq. Not only will that bring fiscal 2008’s spending on the administration’s global war on terror to nearly $200 billion; it will also raise that year’s projected increase in the national debt from $565 billion to $615 billion — plus at least an additional $2 billion in debt-service costs (next year and every year thereafter) to finance the $50 billion in increased borrowing for the war.

The administration projects that its budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which includes $50 billion for that year, will add another $558 billion to the national debt. Needless to say, the $558 billion is a conservative estimate. In its recently updated budget and economic outlook, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) offers two Iraq-withdrawal scenarios (one faster than the other) that would still require war spending between $119 billion and $156 billion for fiscal 2009. The average for the two is $138 billion, which is $88 billion higher than the administration’s $50 billion “placeholder” for 2009. Add another $60 billion for CBO’s estimate of the certain (but, alas, unbudgeted) 2009 patch for the alternative minimum tax (AMT). To finance the nearly $150 billion in additional borrowing ($88 billion/war and $60 billion/AMT) in 2009, add another $7 billion for 2009 debt-service costs (which, of course, will also have to be paid every year thereafter as well). Just these three changes, which total $155 billion, would raise the projected fiscal 2009 national-debt increase from $558 billion to $713 billion. That’s half a trillion dollars more than the administration’s projected unified budget deficit of $213 billion for fiscal 2009. Prorating fiscal 2009’s $713 billion national-debt increase over the budget year’s first 112 days (Oct. 1, 2008, through Jan. 20, 2009, the last day of the Bush administration), we find that the national debt would increase by $220 billion in fiscal 2009 before Mr. Bush departs.

So, let’s do the math. As of last week, President Bush had added $3.25 trillion to the national debt since he entered office. Before the current fiscal year ends, he’ll add another $40 billion. Fiscal 2008 will further increase the national debt by $617 billion. Add $220 billion from fiscal 2009’s $713 billion total debt increase. By Jan. 20, 2009, our back-of-the-envelope calculations project that Mr. Bush will have increased the national debt by $4.13 trillion (nearly 75 percent) in eight years.

Compounding the situation, Mr. Bush will be handing over to his successor a budget that will be adding about $700 billion to the national debt each year through at least fiscal 2012. That’s based on the president’s projections and the CBO’s estimates for war spending and AMT patches. Small wonder the president has threatened to draw ink for his veto pen.

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