Skip to main content

Comment: Obama's debt to Congress?

By Jonathan Mann, CNN
President Obama has predicted that in the coming year the U.S. government will have to spend $3.8 trillion.
President Obama has predicted that in the coming year the U.S. government will have to spend $3.8 trillion.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Comment: The U.S. economy is still only crawling its way out of crisis
  • In the United States there is growing opposition about repaying debt with taxes
  • Vice President Joe Biden says that debt "may become a national security issue"
  • Only lawmakers in Congress can decide how the government spends money
RELATED TOPICS

(CNN) -- Barack Obama campaigned for the White House promising hope and change, but he's delivered some other things there too: spending and debt.

The president made the annual administration budget request to Congress this week, predicting that this year, the U.S. government would need to spend $3.8 trillion: enough to stack one-dollar bills in a pile that would reach past the moon.

More than a third of it will be borrowed money. The U.S. is the world's largest debtor nation and it's going deeper into debt than ever before.

"President Obama estimates in the next five years we'll have $5 trillion worth of deficits. That is up 35 percent from what the president projected just 12 months ago," said CNN Political Analyst David Gergen. "This thing is spinning out of control."

The problem the president faces is that the U.S. economy is still only crawling its way out of crisis; in a recession, government spending is one way to spur growth. Were he to cut spending in times like these, he could make them worse.

Obama does have a plan to bring down the deficits, but success would be years away. Meantime, the impact of all the borrowing is immediate.

At home, the president and his Democratic Party are finding growing opposition from voters who don't want to repay all that debt with taxes.

Abroad, the need to keep borrowing from other countries -- China foremost among them -- makes some Americans worry that Washington is spending itself into subservience to its creditors.

Vice President Joe Biden said this week that debt "may become a national security issue."

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said: "We do not have unlimited resources available that we can go borrow from the rest of the world." Remember, both of them are among the president's supporters.

His opponents may step in next. The president's budget submission to Congress is only a request. Under the U.S. constitution, lawmakers are the only ones who decide how the government spends money.

So Obama may be overruled as the debate gets underway. Politically and economically, watch and see how costly all that debt might be.