Deficit Declines Next Year, But Debt Keeps Soaring

Don't break out the noisemakers and confetti just yet, even though the federal deficit for next year is projected to decline by about $300 billion after hitting an all-time high of $1.56 trillion this year.

To mix a metaphor, the flood of red ink will amount to a 13-digit deficit of $1.3-trillion, which can hardly be proclaimed an example of fiscal restraint.

And casting a giant shadow over deficit decline next year is the new estimate that the budget will hit $1.6-trillion this year.

In constant dollars, that's three times more that it took to fund the U.S. government during the World War II years of 1941-1945. Yes, three times more.

President Obama is again quick to blame his predecessor in the White House and his cohorts in prior Congresses for presiding over "a decade of profligacy."

Obama's 2011 Budget Highlights
Proposed Tax Hikes in Obama's Budget

In a statement this morning unveiling his new budget, the president pointed to his predecessor's:
• Medicare prescription drug program
• "massive tax cuts for the wealthy"
• and two wars

…all of which Mr. Obama said helped run up the deficit to the $1.30-tillion he encountered on the day he took office. And it's been compounded, he said, by the recession and double-digit unemployment.

And even though the annual deficit is going down, the National Debt continues to soar.

It now stands at $12.3-trillion dollars.

By the end of the current fiscal year, it'll hit $13.7-trillion.

And by the end of next year, the latest budget projects the debt will reach $15.1-trillion. And that amounts to 99 percent of the projected size of the total U.S. economy.

If the White House budget numbers are right, the debt will top the Gross Domestic Product in 2012 and every year thereafter.

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You have to dig deep in the bowels of the 2011 budget book to see that even as the deficit declines to well under a trillion dollars in each of the next eight years, the National Debt will do nothing but rise to record highs one year after another. It's projected to hit over $20-trillion in 2016, and by the year 2020, look for a National Debt in excess of $25.7-trillion.

It's not clear the U.S. economy is sustainable with that much debt – and Mr. Obama wanted to be seen today taking the debt problem seriously.

He said Monday: "We simply cannot continue to spend as if deficits don't have consequences; as if waste doesn't matter; as if the hard-earned tax dollars of the American people can be treated like Monopoly money; as if we can ignore this challenge for another generation. We can't."

Of course, projections ten years out are notoriously unreliable. The deficit/debt problem might not be as bad as it looks – or – it could be worse.


Mark Knoller is a CBS News White House correspondent. You can read more of his posts in Hotsheet here. You can also follow him on Twitter here:
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    Mark Knoller is a CBS News White House correspondent.