Thursday, November 8, 2007

New Debt Stats Now Available At

Been a busy few weeks with work, campaigns and helping friends move. Yet the Debt continues to grow in my absence.

Here are the figures for the Month of October 2007 courtesy of the U.S. Treasury at

Debt Held By The Public (Nov. 7, 2007): $5,082,087,499,065.19
Intragovernmental Holdings (Nov. 7, 2007): $4,002,186,282,492.45
Total National Debt (Nov. 7, 2007): $9,084,273,781,557.64

Gifts to Reduce Public Debt Held By Public (Sept. 2007) $27,460.42
Total Gifts for FY 2007: $2,624,862.42

Interest Payment - October 2007: $22,310,362,733.54
Since October 2007 is the first month in FY 2008, the October amount reflects the cumulative total for the Fiscal Year.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Newest Debt figures released

I'm about a week behind the times, but the October monthly statement of the National Debt has been released. Here is a summary:

National Debt Total as of 10/12/2007:

Of that, the debt held by the public comes to: $5,038,254,667,984.29
and Intragovernmental holdings (trust funds) are: $4,006,002,021,756.10

In September, taxpayers paid $19,186,822,742.64 in interest on our National Debt (19 billion is roughly three quarters of the gap that Congress and the Administration are arguing over for the SCHIPS program funding increase).

During the 2007 fiscal year, taxpayers paid: $429,977,998,108.20 in interest. (Just shy of $430 billion - just think of what we could do with that money if we weren't paying interest - tax cuts anyone?)

For public contributions to reduce the national debt, $10,518.85 was donated to the Treasury Department in August 2007, with $2,597,402.00 given year-to-date. ($2 million donated to the Treasury with $19 billion in interest payments in one month.)

Next report will be out on the 4th business day of November.

These figures are available at Treasury Direct,

AP - Deficit falls to lowest level in 5 years

The following article appeared on Oct. 11, 2007, courtesy of the Associated Press.

Deficit falls to lowest level in 5 years
Both spending, revenue at record marks in 2007
Associated Press

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration reported Thursday that the federal budget deficit fell to $162.8 billion in the just-completed budget year, the lowest amount of red ink in five years.

The administration credited the president's tax cuts for helping generate record-breaking revenues but warned of an approaching "fiscal train wreck" unless Congress deals with unsustainable growth in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

President Bush, appearing with his economic team to trumpet the news, noted that the deficit turned out to be $81 billion lower than it was projected to be in February. He said the deficit represents 1.2 percent of gross domestic product - less than the average of the last 40 years.

"By keeping taxes low we can grow the economy, and by working with Congress to set priorities we can be fiscally responsible and we can head toward balance," Bush said after the meeting across the street from the White House. "And that's exactly where we're headed."

The deficit for the 2007 budget year that ended on Sept. 30 was 34.4 percent lower than the $248.2 billion deficit recorded in 2006, reflecting faster growth in revenues than in government spending.

Administration officials said the government was on track to accomplish Bush's goal of eliminating the deficit by 2012. But Democrats said the improvement in the deficit this year did not mask the fact that Bush's economic policies transformed the budget surpluses of the Clinton years into record deficits and an unprecedented increase in the national debt.

The debate over the president's signature tax cuts and their impact on the economy are certain to be played out in the coming presidential campaign. Republican candidates are vowing to make permanent Bush's tax cuts, which are due to expire at the end of 2010; Democrats want to roll back the tax cuts received by the wealthiest taxpayers.

Both revenues and spending climbed to record levels in 2007. Spending rose by 2.8 percent to $2.73 trillion while revenues rose by a faster 6.7 percent to a record $2.57 trillion, a gain the administration attributed to the economic stimulus from the president's tax cuts.

"This year's budget results further demonstrate how the president's tax relief, combined with spending discipline, has helped promote a sustained economic expansion, which led to revenue growth and resulted in a declining deficit," said White House budget director Jim Nussle.

But administration officials said while the short-term budget deficit was improving, greater efforts were needed to deal with the budgetary pressures that will arise in future years with the approaching retirement of 78 million baby boomers.

"For the sake of our children and grandchildren, Congress should begin to take action to prevent this fiscal train wreck," Nussle said in a statement accompanying the budget figures.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said that Bush would "go down in history as the most fiscally irresponsible president ever. The fact is that the nation's debt has exploded on his watch - rising by $3 trillion since 2001, to $9 trillion today."

Bush recently signed into law a measure increasing the government's borrowing ceiling to $9.815 trillion. It was the fifth debt increase of Bush's presidency. The national debt is the accumulation of the annual deficits.

The deficit hit an all-time high in dollar terms of $413 billion in 2004 and has been coming down since.

The Congressional Budget Office projects the deficit will improve further in the 2008 budget year, which began on Oct. 1, projecting a decline to $155 billion before the imbalance starts to rise again in 2009.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

WSJ: GOP Tax Dilemma

The following was sent to me by a good friend. In my opinion, the party's fiscal message should be the following: eliminate wasteful government spending, balance the federal budget each year and start paying off the National Debt. If the party and it's candidates adopt that approach, I think they'll find widespread support.

GOP Tax Dilemma
After years of waste in Congress, voters aren't buying the party's fiscal message.

Friday, October 5, 2007 12:01 a.m. EDT - Wall Street Journal

A few weeks ago Republican leaders gathered on Capitol Hill to hear from their top pollsters and pundits about how they can win back the votes of independent voters. Some of the attendees are still in a state of cardiac arrest over what they learned.

America's swing voters, especially the suburban "security moms," who abandoned the GOP in droves in 2006 still hold Republicans in very low regard. What has party tacticians especially spooked is that these independents are apparently not much attracted to what the Republicans are saying about taxes. That's a bitter pill for party leaders to swallow, because for 25 years the anti-tax banner has been a political trump card for conservative candidates. A top strategist at the Republican National Committee who attended the meeting told me: "Our tax message has worn thin."

Well, that's not exactly true. It is true that the GOP message on taxes needs a makeover, perhaps a radical one--and the party's congressional leaders had better figure this out soon: The big tax fight starts as early as next week when House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charlie Rangle unveils his multibillion dollar soak-the-rich tax hike plan to pay for middle-class Alternative Minimum Tax relief. So let's review some of the key attitudinal shifts of voters on taxes as revealed in recent polls and focus-group findings.

First, the not-so-good news for the GOP. Most voters are unpersuaded by the Republican message that the Bush tax cuts were a resounding success that pumped the economy back to life. Worse, the key independent voters are actually repelled by that message. "It crashes like the Hindenburg," says Richard Thau, who has been monitoring swing voter sentiments across the nation. Why? Because politicians who boast about the rosy economy seem out of touch, even delusional, given the rising costs of gasoline, health insurance and college tuition.
The reality, of course, is that the investment tax cuts did help create seven million jobs and did steer the economy out of recession. That doesn't matter to these "stressed out" voters, as Mr. Thau calls them. The Bush tax cuts are a bridge to the past, not the future, to borrow a Clintonite term. Moreover, because local property and school taxes have been skyrocketing, many independent voters scratch their heads and wonder: What tax cuts?

There is more deflating news. Unlike in the 1980s and '90s, voters are today less attracted to talk of new tax cuts, which they think are pie-in-the-sky, given the current war costs and budget-deficit. Nor are they averse to raising taxes on "the wealthy," a group they are persuaded is taking advantage of tax loopholes to avoid paying their fair share. That the richest 10% already pay two-thirds of the income taxes isn't well understood. One strong defense mechanism against the left's class warfare tax policy is that roughly half of voters are convinced that when politicians say they are only going to soak the rich, they fear their own tax bills will go up.

There is another silver lining for the GOP: The Democrat's tax-happy policies are an even less palatable message to voters. Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, who has sat in the GOP tax strategy sessions tells me that "an overriding concern of economically anxious voters today is that they don't see their own taxes rise."

Pollster David Winston, who's been testing the tax issue for Republicans, agrees with that assessment. When Mr. Winston asked a national sample of registered voters last month, "Do you believe or not believe this statement: Given the cost of living these days, now is not the time to raise taxes," 65% believe now isn't the time to raise taxes, while only 31% believe it is.

There is another GOP imperative: The anti-tax message must be linked to wasteful government spending. "There's no question that for seven out of 10 American voters, wasteful government spending is one of the largest problems in Washington," says pollster Tony Fabrizio. "For many of these voters it's a bigger issue than taxes." All of the polling consistently finds that voters believe about 40 cents of every dollar spent by Washington is wasted. So this widespread aversion to the way government mishandles money may be the best shield against tax hikes--at all levels of government.

In Mr. Winston's survey, 75% of respondents agreed that, "Taxes should not be increased as long as Congress continues to waste the tax money it already receives." Only 23% did not.

Perhaps the most encouraging poll finding is that Americans fully understand the link between a strong economy and deficits. In 2006 federal revenues increased by a world record $250 billion, because of surging employment, corporate profits, and stock values. No Hillary Clinton tax hike could have possibly raised that kind of money.

This is a nation that instinctively gets the supply-side message that putting people to work yields more tax revenues than a strategy of weighing down businesses and workers with tax hikes, which explains this stunning finding: When Mr. Winston's poll asked, "Which approach is more likely to increase federal revenues?" 81% said "increasing economic growth" while only 13% said "increasing taxes."
So the tax issue is still radioactive with most voters, and the GOP would be foolhardy to run and hide from it. That's especially true because if the economy slows down in the coming months due to the housing credit crunch, aversion to higher taxes is likely to intensify.

"Voters' biggest economic concern is whether they will have enough money to meet their own needs," says Sen. Kyl. He says that if Republicans are going to win in 2008, they have to persuade voters that Democratic tax hikes "will make things worse" for the economy and their own personal finances. Fortunately, this message has the added attraction that it's not just pollster-driven spin. It's the truth.

Mr. Moore is senior economics writer for the Wall Street Journal editorial page.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

LTTE: Lapses in judgment

Here is my response to Rep. Jim Oberstar's recent commentary, posted below. The letter appeared in the Oct. 1, 2007 edition of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Lapses in judgment

Rep. Jim Oberstar's recent commentary lashing out at the National Taxpayers Union as a "naysayer" organization is utterly laughable.

As the chairman of the House Transportation Committee, he should be working to prevent and fix problems instead of playing the blame game. He also fails to hold himself accountable in the process.

Oberstar points at the time it takes for freight to go through Chicago as a major concern without mentioning how he has failed to secure much-needed funding for the city of Duluth, which would enable a port in his home district to become a major hub for multi-modal freight.

He points out the need for bridge repair, but never advocated it before the I-35W bridge collapsed.

Instead, he continues to spend more earmarks on bicycle trails in his home district, mass transit and other risky schemes while continuing to blame others for his lapses of judgment.

- J. Scott Williams

Thursday, September 27, 2007

How Effective Has Monetary Policy Been?

How Effective Has Monetary Policy Been?

How Effective Has Monetary Policy Been?

ST. LOUIS, Sept. 27 /PRNewswire/ -- Central banks that have a specific,numeric target for inflation appear to have a good record of hitting those targets, but an analysis from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis suggests that such targets may not be a prerequisite for achieving low and stable inflation.

The analysis was conducted by Marcela M. Williams, a senior research associate, and Robert H. Rasche, a senior vice president and director of research at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. Their research appears in the September/October issue of Review, the Reserve Bank's bimonthly journal of economic and business issues. The publication is also available online at the St. Louis Fed's web site:

Williams and Rasche looked at 23 inflation-targeting countries and measured the moving average of their inflation rates. Generally speaking,they found these countries have been quite successful at keeping their long-term inflation rates within their target ranges. The most successful in meeting their targets are New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland, Thailand and the United Kingdom, which have all maintained an average inflation rate well within their target ranges, even before those ranges were explicitly defined. The exceptions are Brazil, Mexico and the
Philippines, while some countries, such as Chile, Colombia and Hungary have
been able to bring their inflation rates down over time.

To assess the disposition on the subject by members of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC), Williams and Rasche compiled transcripts and public statements of various Fed officials and FOMC members for the past decade or so.

Although the Fed does not set an explicit inflation target, some Fed officials have publicly stated their preference for doing so, including Governor Ben Bernanke, Dallas Fed President Jeffrey Lacker, San Francisco Fed President Janet Yellen and Philadelphia Fed President Anthony Santomero. Williams and Rasche describe St. Louis Fed President William Poole's statements regarding explicit inflation targets as "ambivalent."

Governor Donald Kohn, among others, has expressed opposition to an inflation target for the central bank.

Williams and Rasche emphasized that that the Fed's success over the past two decades in stabilizing the inflation rate without using explicit inflation targets would seem to question the marginal benefit of targeting,at least in the United States.

In addition, they surveyed historical research and commentaries to examine why evidence of the effects of monetary policy on output stabilization are so elusive. While a number of studies show the contractionary effects of monetary policy, results from econometric models often conflict with historical evidence, and economists debate how to reconcile those discrepancies.

Finally, Williams and Rasche concluded that the case for consistently effective short-run monetary stabilization policies is problematic because there are just too much uncertainties in the environment in which central banks operate.

With branches in Little Rock, Louisville and Memphis, the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis serves the Eighth Federal Reserve District, which includes all of Arkansas, eastern Missouri, southern Indiana, southern Illinois, western Kentucky, western Tennessee and northern Mississippi. The St. Louis Fed is one of 12 regional Reserve Banks that, along with the Board of Governors in Washington, D.C., comprise the Federal Reserve System. As the nation's central bank, the Federal Reserve System formulates U.S. monetary policy, regulates state-chartered member banks and bank
holding companies, and provides payment services to financial institutions and the U.S. government.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Oberstar: We need more investment, more modes, less congestion

The following commentary appeared in the Sept. 23 issue of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

By Rep. James Oberstar

The history of transportation is full of skeptics who have stood in the way of progress. Ranging from those who thought a ship would sail off the edge of the Earth to critics who proclaimed that if man were meant to fly he would have wings, these skeptics have been proven wrong throughout the ages.

I count the National Taxpayers Union (NTU) as one such group of naysayers ("Building bridges: don't raise taxes" Sept. 17). NTU has been a persistent critic of public transportation, light rail, commuter rail and even bike and foot paths. They claim all of these modes of transportation are draining tax dollars needed to fund their preferred mode of transportation: freeways.

NTU is stuck in the past, vainly hoping that adding a few more lanes on a freeway system that was designed in the late 1950s and built in the 1960s will keep pace with the transportation needs of the 21st century. However, our economy has grown far beyond the ability of any single mode of transportation to move all of our nation's people and products.

NTU is also wrong to claim that funding levels for transportation are adequate. In the last federal highway aid bill the U.S. Department of Transportation recommended spending $375 billion over six years to maintain our roads and bridges and keep up with congestion. Instead, the president used the threat of a veto to hold the amount of our investment to $286 billion, nearly $90 billion short of the figure his own administration recommended.

Our nation has 73,784 structurally deficient bridges on the national highway system. Congestion on our freeways is growing faster than we can keep up with. According to a report this past week by Texas AM University's Texas Transportation Institute, the average Minnesotan sits in traffic 43 hours a year, burning 30 extra gallons of gas. In effect, this wasted fuel and time levies a $78 billion-a-year congestion tax nationwide, on drivers and businesses. Freeway congestion costs Minnesota's economy $1.1 billion a year. We cannot afford to continue under-investing in our transportation infrastructure.

Congestion is not just limited to our freeways. Right now it takes a cargo container, arriving on our West Coast, 40 hours to travel 1,800 miles to Chicago. It then takes another 36 hours to travel the next seven miles through Chicago's rail yards. We need to make major investments in our nation's freight and passenger rail systems.

The amount of freight being shipped on our nation's rails and roads has increased dramatically in the past two decades. Our economy now calls for just-in-time delivery of goods, making many of the trucks on our highways rolling warehouses, as they move products to market.

Another way to relieve some of the pressure from our highways and railways is to develop a new form of shipping altogether. Short sea shipping would call for the creation of new cargo vessels that move up and down the nation's four coasts. I authored and the House passed legislation to create subsidized loans for the shipping industry to design and build this new class of energy efficient cargo vessels, for the Great Lakes and the salt-water coasts.

If we make the needed investments in technology and research, our nation's transportation system in the 21st century will be multi-modal. Freight containers will move seamlessly from factory to truck, to train, to ship, finding the most cost-effective route to the marketplace. Commuters will be able to walk or bike to a train station to go to work. Our freeways will be upgraded to allow for greater capacity and more efficient flow of traffic. American innovation and new transportation technologies will make gridlock a thing of the past.

The NTU and other skeptics are not looking at the big picture. They have to look through their bug-spattered windshields and past the bumper of the car they are stuck behind in traffic to see that our nation needs a diverse, inter-modal transportation system to serve the needs of 21st century America.

Rep. Jim Oberstar represents Minnesota's 8th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives and is chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Bush: Not Fixing Social Security Not Fair

From the Associated Press (9/24):

Bush: Not fixing Social Security not fair

Treasury report recommends benefit cuts, tax increases to fix funding shortfall


WASHINGTON - The Bush administration said in a new report Monday that Social Security is facing a $13.6 trillion shortfall and delaying needed reforms is not fair to younger workers.

A report issued by the Treasury Department said some combination of benefit cuts and tax increases will need to be considered to permanently fix the funding shortfall. But White House officials stressed President Bush remains opposed to raising taxes.

The Treasury report put the cost of the gap between what Social Security is expected to need to pay out in benefits and what it will raise in payroll taxes in coming years at $13.6 trillion.

It said delaying necessary changes reduces the number of people available to share in the resulting burden and is unfair to younger workers. "Not taking action is thus unfair to future generations. This is a significant cost of delay," the report said.

In another key finding, the report said: "Social Security can be made permanently solvent only by reducing the present value of scheduled benefits and/or increasing the present value of scheduled tax increases."

The paper went on to say: "Other changes to the program might be desirable, but only these changes can restore solvency permanently."

While the Treasury report language seemed to indicate the administration would consider raising taxes along with reducing benefits as a way to deal with the funding shortfall, the White House was quick to reject that possibility.

"The president is not advocating for tax increases or benefit cuts," said White House spokesman Tony Fratto.

"Everyone understands that the choices available in the current structure of Social Security, that absent reform, tax increases and benefit cuts are inevitable," Fratto said. "That's why the president believes it makes more sense to reform the program sooner than later."

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, Bush's point person on Social Security reform, said he has had a number of discussions with members of Congress from both parties over the issue of fixing the problems in Social Security with the looming retirement of 78 million baby boomers.

"The administration's new report is a reminder of President Bush's determination to not only privatize Social Security but to make deep cuts in the benefits that American workers have earned," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. "Nobody should be fooled into believing that the only way to save Social Security is to destroy it with privatization or deep benefit cuts."

Bush had hoped to make Social Security reform the top domestic priority of his second term. Bush put forward a Social Security reform plan in 2005 that focused on creation of private accounts for younger workers but that proposal never came up for a vote in Congress, with Democrats heavily opposed and few Republicans embracing the idea.

While Democrats have fought to protect current benefit levels, Republicans have been adamant that taxes should not be raised to cover the Social Security shortfall.

Phil Swaigel, Treasury's assistant secretary for economic policy, told reporters the plan was to release about six issue briefs on Social Security over the next three months. But he said it was "unclear" at the moment whether the papers would lead to a new push to get an overhaul program through Congress next year.

Many believe such an effort would be unlikely to gain success in 2008, a presidential election year when one-third of the Senate and all House members also will be facing re-election.

Paulson, however, has said even if he is not able to achieve an agreement during the short time the current administration will be in office, he hopes to lay the groundwork for the next administration and a new Congress to tackle the problem.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Bush can't be Keynesian supply-sider

The following appeared in the Sept. 23, 2007 issue of the St. Paul Pioneer Press and was written by Ed Lotterman. A link to the story may be found here.

It is too bad the Old Testament prophet Elijah never passed through Washington, D.C. His challenge to the Israelites in 1 Kings 18, "Choose ye this day whom ye will serve," is a powerful argument against holding two diametrically opposed positions at the same time. Unfortunately, that is a common occurrence in our nation's capital.

Confusion is evident in the White House response to Alan Greenspan's criticism of administration fiscal policies. Defending President Bush, Press Secretary Dana Perino said, "in late 2000, we were headed into a recession, and tax cuts were the prescribed remedy."

Perino is correct. Tax cuts are a prescribed remedy for a recession - if you are a Keynesian. But George W. Bush did not run for office as a Keynesian. He ran as a supply-sider. Supply-side economists are the most diametrically opposed to Keynes of any school of economic thought. The very name "supply-side" is a rejection of the demand-side jockeying John Maynard Keynes advocated.

Supply-side economists argued that trying to micro-manage an economy by manipulating consumer spending was short-sighted and counterproductive. Keynesian tromping of economic gas and brake pedals to regulate demand harms rather than hurts, they said.

Focus instead on the supply side of the economy, they argued. Reduce regulation of economic activity. Increase incentives for saving and investment. That means lowering high marginal income tax rates and taxes on investment earnings from interest, dividends and capital gains. The object is to increase investment. That requires more savings and, thus, less current consumption.

That was the platform on which George W. Bush ran for office in 2000 and was his rationale for tax cuts in 2001. But by the 2004 election, his arguments had changed. Cutting taxes was needed to spur household consumption. That is back to pure Keynesianism.

The problem is that if you cut taxes to spur demand because the economy faces recession, you have to raise them to curtail demand when it really gets rolling. That should have happened two years ago, but the administration showed no willingness to implement the other half of Keynes' prescription.

Just as ancient Israelites could follow Yahweh or Baal, you can be a Keynesian or a supply-sider. But you cannot be both.

Confused economic policy is not original to the Bush administration.

Jimmy Carter's economic advisers were dyed-in-the-wool Keynesians.

But the Carter White house never could decide if it needed to spur the economy to lower unemployment or retard it to cut inflation.

We ended up with the worst combination of both inflation and unemployment in decades.

AP - Bank runs here unlikely thanks to FDIC

Bank runs here unlikely thanks to FDIC

Sept. 23, 2007 (AP) - For many Americans born after the Depression, bank runs are just scenes out of movies like "It's a Wonderful Life."

The troubles at British lender Northern Rock PLC show they can still happen, but it's much less likely that Americans will be seen queuing up outside banks anytime soon to collect their cash as British depositors have this week. The U.S. banking system has different rules and procedures than its U.K. counterpart to guarantee the nation's $4.2 trillion in insured deposits are backed by the government.

Americans can get spooked like anyone else - when the U.S. lender Countrywide Financial Corp. acknowledged sharp losses in its mortgage business, customers packed its bank branches and jammed its online operations, trying to get answers and cash out.

The United States has seen nothing in decades like the billions of dollars Britons have withdrawn from banks in recent days, however.

The reason is largely that the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. guarantees up to $100,000 per account per bank, and $250,000 for retirement accounts. In Britain, the government guarantees all deposits below 2,000 pounds ($4,000), 90 percent of deposits up to 35,000 pounds ($70,000), and nothing above that.

Furthermore, in the United States, even deposits beyond the $100,000 limit are probably safe, given the Federal Reserve has procedures to keep banks solvent.

The chance of a run on a U.S. bank is "almost nil," according to Richard Bove, a bank analyst at Punk Ziegel & Co. He added that Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke has repeated that he's willing to rescue the banking system.

U.S. bank runs are possible, as the brief panic over Countrywide suggested. But even if one happens, U.S. depositors shouldn't fret too much about losing their shirts.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Fiscal Wake-Up Tour to visit Manchester N.H.

The Fiscal Wake-Up Tour Comes to Manchester to Discuss Our Nation's Unsustainable Fiscal Policy

WASHINGTON, Sept. 21 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- On Friday, September 28th, The Concord Coalition will join with other federal budget analysts to host a stop on our Fiscal Wake-Up Tour, a nationwide series of town hall forums on the nation's long-term fiscal challenge. U.S. Comptroller General David M. Walker will be the featured speaker. The event will be held at the
Derryfield Country Club in Manchester and will be open to the press and public.

"One thing that Democrats and Republicans can agree on is that our nation's current fiscal policy is not sustainable over the long-term. Our children's economic future is at risk, which is something no one wants. Changing course will require hard choices such as scaling back future entitlement promises, increasing revenues to pay for them, or -- most likely -- a combination of both. Because these choices are politically difficult, the active involvement of the American people is critical. Without greater understanding of the problem among the public, community leaders, business leaders and home state media, elected leaders are unlikely to break out of their comfortable partisan talking points and unlikely to find solutions. That is why we began the nationwide Fiscal Wake-Up Tour. As demonstrated by the recent election result, voters are tired of partisan gridlock. This gives both parties an opportunity and a duty to begin working together on the real problem we face. Ensuring a sound fiscal future for our children should certainly be high on their list," said Robert L. Bixby, executive director of The Concord Coalition.

What: Fiscal Wake-Up Tour

Where: The Derryfield Country Club
625 Mammoth Road
Manchester, NH 03104

When: Friday, September 28, 2007
11:30 AM to 1:00 PM

Who: U.S. Comptroller General David M. Walker
Robert L. Bixby, The Concord Coalition
Brian Reidl, The Heritage Foundation
Paul Cullinan, The Brookings Institution
RSVP to Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce at
603-666-6600 Ext: 122, or online at:

Alaska abandons 'Bridge to Nowhere' project

Americans for Prosperity Calls Victorious Defeat of Bridge to Nowhere a Testament to the Power of Grassroots Activism

Citizen Group Visited the Bridge to Nowhere in August 2006

WASHINGTON, Sept. 21 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- On the heels of news today that the state of Alaska has officially abandoned plans to pursue the infamous Gravina Bridge to Nowhere project, Americans for Prosperity President Tim Phillips issued the following victory statement:

"The death of the Alaska Bridge to Nowhere is a testament to the power of grassroots activism. Citizen outrage against hard-earned tax dollars being wasted on questionable pet projects delivered this victory for taxpayers. To paraphrase the late Senator Everett Dirksen of Illinois, when citizen activists turned up the heat on Congress, lawmakers saw the light.
By communicating their frustration over this incredibly wasteful use of federal tax dollars, citizens created an environment in which the Bridge to Nowhere could not survive any longer.

"I applaud those hard-nosed lawmakers that helped to fight against the Bridge to Nowhere, including Senator Tom Coburn, Representative Jeff Flake, and Representative Mark Kirk.

"As we drove more than 10,000 miles across 37 states on our Ending Earmarks Express road tour last year, which visited the Bridge to Nowhere, one outraged citizen after another told us that the earmark favor factory must be shut down. By refusing to remain silent while their tax dollars were abused, citizens defeated the Bridge to Nowhere.

"This victory today is a key reason why over 1,000 citizens are committed to come to Washington, DC, as part of Americans for Prosperity Foundation's Defending the American Dream Summit on October 4-5. This Summit will be a massive show of force in support of fiscal restraint and against abuse of tax dollars. With these grassroots troops we can restore genuine fiscal restraint to Washington and bring an end to questionable earmarks like the Bridge to Nowhere."

Editors Note: Americans for Prosperity Foundation traveled over 10,000 miles across the nation on the Ending Earmarks Express road tour last year, visiting 37 states and 50 earmarks, including the Bridge to Nowhere. AFPF was the first Washington, DC-based group to visit the proposed site of the Gravina Bridge to Nowhere.

To view video of AFP President Tim Phillips speaking on the ferry from Gravina Island to Ketchikan, please visit:

Americans for Prosperity (AFP) is the nation's premier grassroots
organization committed to advancing every individual's right to economic freedom and opportunity. AFP believes reducing the size and scope of government is the best safeguard to ensuring individual productivity and prosperity for all Americans. AFP educates and engages citizens in support of restraining state and federal government growth, and returning government to its constitutional limits.

U of MN Wrestling Coach supports balanced budget amendment

Minnesota Gophers wrestling coach J. Robinson (former Army captain and National Wrestling Hall of Fame inductee) had this to say in a Q&A session with St. Paul Pioneer Press columnist Bob Sansevere in the Sept. 21, 2007 issue of the paper, prior to the team's departure for a White House ceremony commemorating their 2007 National Championship.

The second thing is a balanced budget amendment. Right now, politicians talk out of both sides of their mouth. They tell the poor people, "We're not going to cut your services." And they tell the rich people, "We're not going to raise your taxes." And they can do that and then go and vote for deficit spending. The politicians don't have to make hard choices. If you take away everybody's credit card so they can't charge anything, you know what you buy when you go to the grocery store? You buy hamburger. You don't buy steak. Because you can only afford hamburger. It makes your decision-making process completely different. It mandates what you have to do. So those two things will change America.

You can read the whole interview here:

Thursday, September 20, 2007

AP-Paulson urges Congress to lift U.S. debt ceiling

The following appeared in the Sept. 20 issue of the St. Paul Pioneer Press via the AP.

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson told Congress on Wednesday the government will hit the current debt ceiling on Oct. 1. He sought quick action to increase the limit, saying it was essential to protect the "full faith and credit" of the country, especially at a time of financial market turmoil. The limit is $8.965 trillion. Unless Congress votes to raise it, the country would be unable to borrow more money to keep the government operating and to pay debt obligations coming due. The United States has never defaulted on a debt payment, but the decision on whether to raise the debt ceiling often means a prolonged battle in Congress. That does not take into account moves the government often has to use, such as withdrawing investments from certain trust funds to create room for extra borrowing until Congress finally approved a debt-limit increase. This month, the Senate Finance Committee approved increasing the limit on the debt to $9.82 trillion. That boost of $850 billion would be the fifth since President Bush took office in 2001. The House approved an increase in May. The full Senate has not acted yet.

Monday, September 17, 2007

PRNewswire: HillaryCare could create taxpayers as taxdodgers consumer group warns

An interesting read. Will we be tax dodgers if we fail to buy HillaryCare? How much would THIS add to the National Debt/

"Clinton's plan to require all Americans to buy health insurance would force people to choose between rent and health insurance, which could force people to go bankrupt if they make the wrong choice or turn into tax dodgers if they fail to buy unaffordable health insurance."

Consumer Group: Hillary Clinton's Mandatory Health Insurance Purchase Plan is an Act of War on the Middle Class Family That Can't Afford $12k Policy

Clinton Takes Over $1 Million From Insurers, Would Force All Americans to Buy Private Coverage

SANTA MONICA, Calif., Sept. 17 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR) today condemned Senator Hillary Clinton's mandatory health insurance purchase plan as a gift to insurers that have given over $1 million in campaign contributions to her presidential campaign.

FTCR said that a plan that would require every American to buy private health insurance without a cap on how much Americans would be charged is an attack on the middle class. The average American health insurance policy for a family of four costs $12,000 per year; Clinton did not say how average Americans would pay for it.

"A woman perceived as the architect of socialized medicine in America is now the godmother of a plan for corporate socialism," said Jamie Court, President of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR).

"That's a testament to the power of health insurer campaign contributions. This plan guarantees insurers a market for their products at any cost. Senator Clinton's plan is a declaration of war on middle-class families who cannot afford $12,000 a year for a health insurance policy because the
Clinton plan doesn't cap premiums or regulate them. The only reason to force Americans to buy health insurance is to bailout an industry that's failed to make its products attractive enough to the market."

FTCR said that the individual mandate is untenable and that real health care reform must rein in health insurance companies.

-- A recent report by the Kaiser Family Foundation showed that the average cost of coverage for a family of four is now $12,000, not including deductibles that often require families to spend $5,000 out-of-pocket before insurance coverage kicks in.

-- Health insurance premiums are increasing 250% faster than the rate of inflation because health insurers are keeping more health care premium dollars for profit.

-- Health insurance premiums have increased 78% since 2001 compared to a 19% increase in wages and a 17% increase in inflation, according to the Kaiser report.

FTCR said that a hallmark of so-called 'individual mandate' proposals, like that already in place in Massachusetts, is high-cost polices that provide minimum benefit, bare-bones coverage. These policies do not adequately protect patients when they become sick.

"With $12,000 annual health insurance premiums fueling double-digit insurer profit increases, health reform must rein in insurance companies, not give them more control over our health care," said Jerry Flanagan of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights. "Clinton's plan to require all Americans to buy health insurance would force people to choose between rent and health insurance, which could force people to go bankrupt if they make the wrong choice or turn into tax dodgers if they fail to buy unaffordable health insurance."

The nation's largest insurers reported double-digit profit increases for the second quarter of 2007:

-- WellPoint, the nation's largest insurer and parent company of Blue Cross of California, reported an 11% profit increase over 2006.
-- UnitedHealth, the second largest insurer and parent of PacifiCare of California, reported a 22% increase in earnings over 2006.
-- Aetna's profit was up 27% over 2006.
-- Health Net's profit increased 23.1% over 2006.

According to Weiss Ratings, between 2001 & 2005, HMOs and health insurers nationally have recorded more than $38 billion in profits -- enough money to provide health insurance to 12 million Americans for an entire year.

In 2005, medical bills were responsible for half of all bankruptcies. Of the approximately 1 million Americans who file for bankruptcy each year as a result of illness, three-quarters have insurance; most have college degrees, are working and own their homes according to a Harvard Medical School report.

FTCR is California's leading public interest watchdog. For more information, visit us on the web at

Friday, September 14, 2007

Greenspan book criticizes Bush and Republicans #2

From the Wall Street Journal, courtesy of the Drudge Report.

Mr. Greenspan writes that when President Bush chose Dick Cheney as vice president and Paul O'Neill as treasury secretary -- both colleagues from the Gerald Ford administration, during which Mr. Greenspan was chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers -- he "indulged in a bit of fantasy" that this would be the government that would have resulted if Mr. Ford hadn't lost to Jimmy Carter in 1976. But Mr. Greenspan discovered that in the Bush White House, the "political operation was far more dominant" than in Mr. Ford's. "Little value was placed on rigorous economic policy debate or the weighing of long-term consequences," he writes.

You can read the whole post here.

This is a case where Greenspan is exactly right - the fact the Republicans strayed from their limited government principles, created a situation where they deserved to lose.

I admit I hadn't really looked at the President Ford connection before, but perhaps Greenspan is right, I'd have to concede. If President Ford would have won in 1976, perhaps this is what the economic world might have looked like.

On the other hand, the entire course of the economy would have been different - perhaps we wouldn't have had the double-digit inflation of the Carter era, President Reagan might not have been elected in 1980 (perhaps Nelson Rockefeller or Bob Dole would have been elected in his place), taxes might have been continually high, the economy might have been more stagnant if Mr. Greenspan was not appointed to replace Paul Voelker as the Chairman of the Federal Reserve.

Heck, a whole host of things could have/would have happened if President Ford won in 1976. However, he didn't and we are now dealing with what we have - still a growing economy bigger than anyone would have imagined in 1976, despite Congress and the President borrowing and spending more.

Let's hope the fiscally conservative Republicans can get their backbone again and get the spending back under control.

Greenspan book criticizes Bush and Republicans

Coming soon from the Wall Street Journal, courtesy of the Drudge Report.

AP - Deficit running behind 2006 levels #2

I took a look at the Treasury Direct website to see if the latest Interest figures were out. Sure enough, they were. For the current fiscal year, the U.S. Government paid $410,791,175,365.56 in interest payments on our National Debt.

If the deficit prediction comes true next month (September is the last month in the Government's fiscal year), then we are borrowing $158 billion and paying out $411 billion in interest payments, with the final fiscal year numbers due to report in about 3 weeks.

Methinks Congress is in great need of fiscal discipline and a dose of reality.

AP - Deficit running behind 2006 levels #1

The following appeared in the Sept. 14, 2oo7 issue of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

WASHINGTON (AP) - The federal deficit is running shaprly lower than last year even though spending in August set an all-time high, the government reported Thursday. The Treasury Department said that the deficit through the first 11 months of this budget year totaled $274.4 billion, down 9.8 percent from the same period a year ago. Analysts believe the deficit for all of 2007 will be even lower because they are forecasting a sizable surplus in the final month, reflecting in part timing issues related to Social Security and Medicare payments. The Congressional Budget Office is forecasting that when this budget year wraps up Sept. 30, the deficit will total $158 billion, which was down by 36.2 percent from last year's $248.2 billion.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Not ANOTHER Trust Fund? #3

After reading and rereading Congressman Oberstar's rant, I am still unconvinced that we need neither a 5-cent per gallon gas tax increase nor a Bridge Trust Fund.

The Congressman is right, insofar as the fact we are paying 18.4 cents per gallon fuel tax currently. He is wrong in his insinuation that transit and bike paths should come out of that tax. most American's I talk to don't have a problem with paying their "fair share" of the gas tax. The problem they have is the wasteful spending in Congress that dedicates money that drivers are paying and putting it to thing that have no benefit for them.

If the Congressman wants a tax to pay for light rail transit or bicycle paths, that's fine. As long as the funds come from transit users or bicyclists.

I have spent countless hours on the New York City subway and the Washington, D.C. metro over the years and admire the way they handle their mass transit system. I've also paid my way through the fares that they charge. As a young Staff Sergeant stationed at Fort George G. Meade, Maryland in the late 1990s, I've also utilized the Maryland Area Rail Commuter (MARC), and admire the way they handle the needs of the consumer.

However, MARC, NYC and DC spent years analyzing population growth patterns and it fits their geographical area much better than the Twin Cities. The Hiawatha light rail line from the Mall of America to Downtown Minneapolis is quite convoluted. It doesn't pay for itself, despite claims of 'high ridership,' there are no controlled turnstyles to ensure that riders have actually paid to get on (I'd like to know what the yearly loss is from the 'transit theives' who don't pay for the service but utilize it anyway), and they still haven't straightened out the frequency for the lights on Hiawatha Avenue. I've driven Hiawatha many a day with few cars in front or behind me, only to have the lights turn red because a train is coming. As soon as that train passes, another one comes and trips the light a block later. An that isn't counting the time I tried to get onto Hiawatha after a storm knocked out the power to the switches. The lights were on, the gate arms were down and not a train in sight.

As for bike paths, why is it that the transit nuts were the same people who advocated taking the old rails from abandoned train lines and turned them into the bike paths. Couldn't they have been used for commuter rail and saved the taxpayers money?

If Oberstar wants funding for bike paths, let him tax the bicyclists. If he wants funding for mass transit, let him tax the end user. If he wants to rebuild bridges, then dedicate the current funding from the 18.4 cent/gallon gas tax to roads and bridges, since automobile users are the ones who use the roads and bridges anyway. We don't need a trust fund to handle this - we just need to make sure the current tax is used for the intended purposes and not siphoned away with more wasteful spending only to put another I.O.U. in it's place.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

August Monthly Statement of the Public Debt now available

The Monthly Statement of the Public Debt, published by the Bureau of the Public Debt for the U.S. Treasury Department is now available at the following site:

Gift Contributions to Reduce Debt Held by the Public for the month of July 2007 amounted to $15,846.10, with an aggregate total for Fiscal Year 2007 of $2,586,883.15.

Oberstar Responds: Star Tribune Commentary Sept. 8, 2007

This was published in the Sept. 8, 2007 issue of the Star Tribune. This is the entire commentary, no editing has been done.

James L. Oberstar: The truth about my position on bridges infrastructure

The things I support are in the public interest, and I've been at it a long time.

If you believe Katherine Kersten, I am single-handedly responsible for the collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge. She paints a picture of me as a modern Slovenian-American Nero, cheerfully pedaling, rather than fiddling, in the face of disaster.

According to her Aug. 23 column, I paid little attention to bridges before Aug. 1. But I don't recall reading any Katherine Kersten columns about bridge safety before the collapse, either.
Here is the cold, hard truth: I was promoting bridge safety before bridge safety was cool, to paraphrase the country song. I have been calling for greater investment in our transportation infrastructure all my professional life.

Kersten insinuates that the bridge failed because I brought money into the state for other things, such as light-rail lines to relieve traffic congestion in the Twin Cities (not in my congressional district, by the way); bike and pedestrian trails (in the Twin Cities and in my district) to provide transportation and recreational opportunities and promote economic development, and highway reconstruction projects in my district to correct unsafe road conditions and save people's lives. How appalling!

The projects I championed all serve the public interest, and I stand by every one of them. They were included in a surface transportation bill designed to invest in a variety of modes, including nonmotorized transportation.

The metro area is the economic, political, media, population and, yes, transportation hub of Minnesota. Often, however, the sheer gravitational pull of this area keeps government services from adequately reaching other parts of the state.

Roughly half the population of Minnesota lives outside of the metro area, in places without the skyscrapers, stadiums and star power of Minneapolis-St. Paul. These hard-working, tax-paying, play-by-the-rules Minnesotans have every right to ask their elected officials, including their members of Congress, to help them get the services they need.

The projects I supported did not spring from my imagination. They were brought to me by state, county and municipal officials, chambers of commerce and individual citizens who made a valid case for each of them. I responded as an elected representative should.

This country is facing a huge deficit in transportation infrastructure. The 18.4-cent federal tax on a gallon of gasoline has stayed flat for 14 years. There are few things that cost the same or less today than they did 14 years ago, but we can't pave highways and build bridges with computers and cell phones. We need steel, stone and heavy equipment, which are much costlier today than in 1993.

In 2002, when we were drafting the surface transportation bill popularly known as SAFETEA-LU, my colleagues and I -- Democrats and Republicans -- proposed a 5-cent increase in the fuel tax to make up for the buying power lost to inflation. Our proposal met with stiff opposition from the White House. Instead we were forced to accept a bill that fell some $90 billion short of our needs, and our infrastructure deficit grows because of it.

A 5-cent increase would have cost the average driver less than a dollar a week. In the meantime, the price of gasoline has increased by more than a dollar a gallon. And none of that increase goes to a public purpose. It goes to OPEC.

After the I-35W collapse, I developed a National Highway System Bridge Initiative to address the problem of deteriorating bridge structures. This initiative has four components: raise the standards for bridge inspections and increase training and provide new technologies for bridge inspectors; create a trust fund to finance the repair, rehabilitation or replacement of deteriorating bridges; distribute funding on the basis of safety and need -- with no earmarks allowed, and create a dedicated revenue stream to keep that trust fund solvent.

I suggested a return to the 5-cent fuel tax increase because I believe it is the most fair and appropriate source for this revenue. But, while the tax increase is not a central component of the bridge initiative -- there are other sources to consider -- it is the part that has gotten the most attention from the media and drawn the most fire from critics. That's unfortunate.

My staff and I spent a good deal of time talking with Kersten as she prepared to write her column. Unfortunately, she chose not to let the facts get in the way of a good rant. Instead, she wove a political fairy tale, and decided to cast me as the ogre under the bridge.
All just to save a nickel.

James L. Oberstar, D-Minn., is chairman of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Not ANOTHER Trust Fund? #2

We do not NEED another Trust Fund. Congressionally approved trust funds are nothing more than Congressionally approved slush funds.

I am currently tallying the list of current slush funds and will be posting soon, which will better illustrate my point that we have too many trust funds already.

Here's what the problem is: Every time there is a trust fund, money that is in the trust fund is not held in trust, nor is it invested in non-U.S. treasuries. It is siphoned off to the general fund, and replaced by a U.S. Treasury bill, bond or note that is interest bearing.

Currently, the Highway Trust Fund (Transit), has $7,491,723,000.00 worth of interest bearing U.S. Government IOUs, while the main non-transit Highway Fund is holding
$6,919,846,000.00 worth of paper.

If Oberstar gets his Bridge Trust Fund, it will be more of the same. Take money from the trust fund, spend it in the general fund on purposes other than rebuilding bridges, and replace the funds with a worthless IOU. I guess in the modern era, that's the Congressional way!

Not ANOTHER Trust Fund? #1

The Press Release below was released by the U.S. Transportation Committee, U.S. House of Representatives, on Aug. 8, 2007.
Oberstar Announces National Bridge Plan

Initiative would create dedicated fund for bridge repair

August 8, 2007
MINNEAPOLIS—Just one week after an Interstate highway bridge collapsed in Minneapolis, MN, taking at least five lives and plunging dozens of vehicles and their occupants into the Mississippi River, Rep. James L. Oberstar (Minn.) today proposed a comprehensive program to repair the nation’s structurally deficient bridges.

Oberstar, who chairs the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, announced the plan today in Minneapolis after visiting the site of the bridge tragedy.

“One week ago, a routine commute after a day of work, school, or shopping turned to horror, shock, and tears,” Oberstar said. “Today, as the recovery effort continues, we ask ourselves if such a tragic failure can happen elsewhere. How many structurally deficient bridges are out there? What repairs are immediately needed?”

Oberstar pointed out that there are 73,784 bridges in the country rated “structurally deficient” by the U.S. Department of Transportation. He said a major reason why these bridges are not repaired, rehabilitated, or replaced can be attributed to a “tombstone mentality” in the Federal Government and in the States.

“We react to tragedy, when lives are lost, but we fail to take preemptive action that could prevent these tragic events,” Oberstar said.

Oberstar’s initiative addresses the need to repair, rehabilitate, or replace the aging, failing bridges on the National Highway System. The NHS consists of the Eisenhower Interstate System, the Strategic Highway Military Network, and additional major highways across the country. The NHS covers only 4.1 percent of total road mileage in the country, but it carries 45 percent of its traffic, in terms of vehicle miles traveled. NHS bridges carry more than 70 percent of the nation’s bridge traffic. The Department of Transportation lists 6,175 NHS bridges as structurally deficient; almost half of them (2,830) are on Interstate highways.

The initiative has four main components:
1. It significantly improves bridge inspection requirements.
2. It provides dedicated funding.
3. It distributes funds based on public safety and need. It prohibits Congressional and Administration earmarks, and
4. It establishes a trust fund, modeled after the Highway Trust Fund, to provide a dedicated source of revenue for the repair, rehabilitation, and replacement of structurally deficient bridges. Revenues deposited in this trust fund will be available for no other purpose.

Oberstar said addressing this issue will be the first order of business for his Committee when Congress returns in September. He will convene a hearing of the full Committee to look at the problem of structurally deficient bridges on September 5, and will immediately begin work to move his initiative through Congress.

“We cannot wait for another tragedy,” Oberstar said. “We must act, and act quickly.”

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

How big is the debt?

How big is the National Debt?

As of September 4, 2007 it is: $8,995,145,905,720.62 according to the U.S. Treasury Department Bureau of the Public Debt website. (

Of the nearly 9 Trillion amount, $5,093,470,584,789.90 is held by investors and $3,901,675,320,930.72 is held in "Intragovernmental Holdings."

The Statutory Debt Limit (the Congressionally mandated cap on the National Debt), effective July 31, 2007 (most recent date information is available at the time of this posting) is: $8,965,000,000,000 (8 Trillion, 965 Billion).

Through July 2007, the interest alone on the National Debt for Fiscal Year 2007 amounted to: $385,102,764,992.36 ($385 Billion dollars) with two months left in the fiscal year.

Welcome to National Debtbusters

Welcome to National Debtbusters, a blog specifically devoted to the ever looming and ever growing U.S. National Debt.

Here at National Debtbusters, we aim to inform the average citizen about the history, size and economic ramifications of the U.S. debt. We will be posting articles, commentary and information regarding the Debt on a long-term basis.

Please check back often as new information will be made as soon as it is available.

National Debt Clock