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Relax about the debt

Matt Miller explains how he stopped worrying and learned to distrust debt predictions.

As a debt worrywart who devoured one of Pete Peterson's doomsday books on my (first) honeymoon, and who came to Washington to help balance the budget in the 1990s, I take a back seat to no one when it comes to deficit hawkery. But the current panic over the national debt is a little mad. Yes, it's a fine thing that President Obama is naming Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles to head up the fiscal commission he'll unveil Thursday. And Republican glee and Democratic fear over the political fallout from trillion-dollar deficits are understandable. But, at least for now, the policy consequences are modest and manageable.

How can I say that? Because even the most debilitating debt is racked up only one year at a time. And that means the staggering $9 trillion in fresh debt that President Obama has projected over the next decade is only a number on paper for the moment. If they came to pass, these levels of debt would be country-wrecking, next-generation-crushing and downright wrong. Is the president's forecast of such debt proof of the White House's unwillingness to lead on hard choices? You betcha. Does it mean we'll actually incur this debt? In a word, no.

More here.

By Ezra Klein  |  February 19, 2010; 6:05 PM ET
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It's true, of course, that since Obama will only have a single term he probably won't be doing as much spending as he's been planning.

Posted by: cpurick | February 19, 2010 6:35 PM | Report abuse

Ezra, there a few things you can personally do to help:

1. Stop writing about it. In the short run, while we're still alive, jobs and growth are what we need to worry about not deficits and debt.

2. Read "The End of Influence". Our debt, unlike most other countries debt, is not a problem regardless of size until the dollar is no longer the world's currency standard (until that far away day our debt is a bigger problem for our creditors who desperately need the dollar to retain its value).

3. Write about the need for health care reform since reducing health care costs is the best thing anyone can do to control the long term deficits and debt.

Posted by: ethelmertz | February 19, 2010 7:10 PM | Report abuse

"Does it mean we'll actually incur this debt? In a word, no."

I agree with him. In fact, I've always operated on the assumption that leftists know it to be true as well, but they want to get people hooked on gold plated subsidized health care in a gamble that when the time comes for the nut cutting, the addicts they are creating will vote to continue their entitlements at the expense of the defense budget.

Of course, if we choose to default, a possibility Ezra so lightly tossed out there yesterday, over making massive cuts in the entitlement programs the Democrats are now busily trying to create, we'd best be sure we maintain a robust defense department 'cause our creditors won't take kindly to our default. And some of our creditors are pretty stout fellas.

Posted by: bgmma50 | February 19, 2010 8:14 PM | Report abuse

This article is a bunch of meaningless mush.

Bush Jr proved you can't ignore the possibility of debt explosions, just as much as Clinton proved you can't underestimate how quickly things can improve.

The trick is knowing which situation we are facing and what reasonable steps gvmt can take at any given time.

The article provides no practical advice on how to debate the debt issue with lunatic right-wingers because they don't deal with nuances like this.

Posted by: Lomillialor | February 19, 2010 9:53 PM | Report abuse

Read this discussion between Dr. Lafayette Granger and Crazy W. Fox, a Native American Indian; a descendent of Crazy Horse who help defeat Custer at the Little Big Horn in 1876.

Dr. Granger: It is evident you live in a dream world; It the trend that that must be changed. Ellsworth said when you get into a bad situation you must change it as soon as possible. One person said I would rather be an inch from Hell going in the other direction than a mile from Hell going towards it.
It is not dream that President Obama is an inch from financial Hell for America.
Crazy W. Fox: Without question he is brilliant and charming; however, he is surrounded with questionable unqualified characters. This is not suppressing because he has always been attracted to extremist like Wright and Bill Ayers. Michelle is charming and smart too. She was never proud of her country two years ago but now expresses great joy at being an American. They have two beautifully children and are a happy family.
We believed in Obama and thought he would transform America utilizing his talents to help us. Our hopes have been shattered. He is a Camelion.
Dr. Granger: I believe President Obama has helped America because he has awakened the children of the “Greatest Generation” and they have the same blood flowing in their veins as their fathers. I expect to see a return to our founding fathers constitution and elect people to congress and the White House who will save America. It will not be Lindsey Graham, Charlie Crist, or John McCain because they are like the children of Israel who needed to die before reaching the Promised Land. It will be Rubio, Palin, Brown and new blood that will stop spending us into oblivion, reduce taxes, and put prayer back into our schools.
Stop dreaming and wake up to reality that we are not far from Financial Hell and must turn 180% immediately.

Posted by: BigW1937 | February 20, 2010 7:31 AM | Report abuse

If one waits until the deed is done, it's TOO LATE. The time to worry and countermand the lunacy is NOW. Otherwise, "But Obama said, 'Just relax - this won't hurt a BIT!' " will become your epitaph.

Posted by: DoTheRightThing | February 22, 2010 4:58 PM | Report abuse

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