June 19, 2009
By Ernest Istook
First they said health care legislation would cost $1 trillion.
Then they upped it to $1.6-trillion.
It might as well be a made-up number like "gazillion." No one
really comprehends the sheer tonnage of the dollars being spent.
Washington's spending spree seems to be lulling everyone into a
President Obama claims people would not be forced to change
their doctor or their coverage. He denies trying to push people
into government-run health care. But a Lewin Group study (pdf) projects that 119 million
Americans would end up in the government-run plan that Obama and
others want to create.
Focusing for the moment just on the cost, how can we afford
The price tag for last fall's bailouts approached a trillion
dollars. So did this spring's stimulus spending. And if you count
the interest on the borrowed money, both initiatives will surpass
Now here comes health care to complete the trifecta. Sen. Edward
Kennedy's (D-Mass.) "Affordable Health Choices Act" -- an Orwellian
name if ever there were one -- starts with a base cost of
$1-trillion more in deficit spending ... and add-ons will push that
amount even higher according to the non-partisan Congressional
Budget Office. Other proposals are in that range, too. Backroom
chatter says CBO has already estimated Sen. Max Baucus' (D-Mont.)
upcoming version at $1.6-trillion. And it's all growing as more
details are added.
Eyes glaze over at such numbers because nobody really understands
what a trillion is. It's often said that people ignore what they
don't understand. But we must not ignore something so
To rally the American people requires that they understand the
enormousness of this spending. Here are some efforts to explain
what a trillion means:
The time-to-count approach. One of my young
granddaughters, Abby, bragged to me that she now can count to 20.
What if she tried for a trillion?
Jeremy Harper was an Internet sensation in 2007 when he counted
to one million in front of a webcam. He took sleep breaks and it
took him 89 days.
But a trillion is a million million. If Jeremy, Abby, or anyone
else attempted to count to a trillion, they could not. By counting
one number each second -- with no breaks, no sleep, no rest--it
would take 32,000 years to count that high.
Even Methuselah only lived to be 969.
The distance approach. Traveling at the speed of light it
takes two months to cover a trillion miles. But of course you can't
do that unless you're an actor in a science fiction movie. However,
if you took a trillion one-dollar bills and laid them end-to-end,
they would reach from the Earth to the sun. You can't do that
either, because there's not that much money; the total of all the
cash in America is less than $900-billion.
The cosmic wonders approach. How many stars in the Milky
Way? Probably about 100 billion. So it takes ten whole galaxies to
contain a trillion stars.
The political approach. For big spenders, this involves
pooh-poohing the significance of spending trillions of dollars,
claiming we're saving by spending, or concealing the costs.
The public thinks otherwise. Rasmussen polling reports that 53%
of Americans now believe that adding more government spending hurts
the economy, with only 27% saying it helps. Decreased government
spending, according to 46%, would help the economy, with 27%
claiming the opposite.
Without adding health care "reform," the deficit already is
projected to hit $1.8-trillion in this year alone. Even before
taking office, President Obama predicted "trillion-dollar deficits
for years to come." His projected deficit spending will surpass the
combined deficits of all previous American presidents.
What will it cost to pay back the borrowed money?
Truth-in-Lending laws require that borrowers must be told the total
they must repay, including interest, on a home mortgage or other
major loan. Politicians exempt themselves from this requirement.
But the interest alone on a trillion dollars, at a common rate such
as 6%, requires paying $166 million in interest -- each and every
day, perhaps in perpetuity.
The scariest thing about spending new trillions is that it's no
longer just a possibility. It's happened in the last year and is
happening again right now. And who will be asked to pay it back?
Our children and grandchildren.
My poor dear Abby!
The best approach to counting to a trillion is not to try. And
not to spend it either.
Ernest Istook is recovering from serving
14 years in Congress and is now a distinguished fellow at The
First Appeared in Human Events
First they said health care legislation would cost $1 trillion. Then they upped it to $1.6 trillion. It might as well be a made-up number like "gazillion."
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