Mark Knoller is a White House Correspondent for CBS News.
If you scoured the hundreds of pages of the Housing bill signed today by Pres. Bush, you'd find that buried deep in its bowels – in the hope few would notice – is this:
SEC. 3083. INCREASE IN STATUTORY LIMIT ON THE PUBLIC DEBT.It's a provision that allows the U.S. Government to keep on spending money it doesn't have and has to borrow.
Subsection (b) of section 3101 of title 31, United States Code, is amended by striking out the dollar limitation contained in such subsection and inserting in lieu thereof $10,615,000,000,000.
It raises the legal ceiling on the national debt to more than $10.6 trillion. And it's the sixth time the debt limit has had to be raised on President Bush's watch.
On the day President Bush took office, the National Debt stood at $5.7 trillion. That's with a "T."
Seven and a half years later, it has soared to over $9.5 trillion, a 66 percent increase of more than $3.8 trillion. And it could not have risen so high so quickly unless Congress had approved increases in the debt limit along the way – which it did and which President Bush always signed into law – quietly - without fanfare or ceremony.
It's an issue President Bush never talks about – understandable for a politician who regards himself as a defender of fiscal discipline.
Asked this morning if President Bush were self-conscious or even embarrassed about signing another increase in the debt limit, White House press secretary Dana Perino defended some of the deficit spending.
"The President makes no apologies for the money he spends to protect this country from terrorists who want to attack us." she said. "Nor does he make apologies for the economic stimulus package."
But there's plenty of spending in the national debt that has nothing to do with the war on terrorism or the $168 billion economy stimulus package enacted in February.
And there's plenty more deficit spending on the way.
On Monday, the White House announced that the federal deficit for the fiscal year beginning October 1st would hit $482 billion – the biggest in U.S. history. The deficit for the current year will be less than originally projected – but at $389 billion, it'll be the second largest ever.
Even so, the administration is quick to point out that the deficit this year amounts to only 2.7 percent of the whole economy – the gross domestic product. The Office of Management and Budget says that's only "slightly above the 40-year historical average of 2.4 percent. Next year's deficit will jump to 3.3 percent of the GDP.
And even though interest rates are low, taxpayers are shelling out $232 billion this year alone - just to pay the interest on the national debt.
If interest rates rise along with the national debt, the amount of interest payments will go up as well.
It's just one of the things the next President of the United States will inherit from George Bush.