When the Red, White and Blue Is In the Red

generic capitol congress house cash money budget

During the Johnson administration, the Senate Republican leader Everett Dirksen was railing one day against government spending and managed to say, "...a billion here and a billion there, and pretty soon you're talking about real money."

That's almost quaint these days, and I'm not even talking about the cost of health care.

I used to say I had been around so long that nothing surprised me. But last week, I got surprised - I should say I had a jaw-dropping shock is a better way to say it - every time I picked up the newspaper and read about the numbers we're throwing around lately.

Like yesterday when I picked up The New York Times to discover we have spent more money rebuilding Iraq's schools, hospitals, water treatment and electrical plants - $54 billion - than we have spent on any construction project since the Marshall Plan, which you'll recall was to rebuild Europe after World War II.

Sobering but not surprising: Many of those facilities may close when we leave because there are not enough trained Iraqis to operate them.

Another number in the news last week that I found astounding: It is now to keep one U.S. soldier on the ground in Afghanistan, not to mention that for every soldier there, we have one civilian contractor.

CBSNews.com Special Report: Afghanistan

Which helps explain another shocker that came out last week: that 10 years ago, we owed the government of Spain more than we owed China. Yet, when President Obama came calling to China, we owed the Chinese more than a trillion dollars.

Yep, old Ev Dirksen was right. A billion here and a billion there did add up to real money - and a big pile of bills - but has going a trillion dollars in hock to one country made us more secure?

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    Bob Schieffer is a CBS News political contributor and former anchor of "Face The Nation," which he moderated for 24 years before retiring in 2015.