Deficit worries By 2015, interest payments on the federal debt are predicted to be about the size of the U.S. defense budget.

Posted: May 16, 2009

Congressional Democrats and President Obama have developed a bad case of deficit amnesia.

Last July, when the federal deficit swelled to a then-record $490 billion, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) criticized President Bush for having "mortgaged our future."

But with a Democrat in the White House now, Pelosi and her colleagues are overspending as if they're determined to make the Bush-era deficits look like pocket change.

The Obama administration came out with revised figures that show that the federal deficit in the current fiscal year will reach $1.84 trillion. That's $89 billion more than the administration projected in February, as tax revenues dwindle in the deep recession.

The deficit for fiscal year 2010, which begins in October, is now forecast to be $1.26 trillion, or $87 billion higher. Congress approved the president's $3.5 trillion budget for 2010 last week.

And the true budget picture is probably worse, because the administration is being overly optimistic in predicting how quickly the economy will recover.

Much of the current deficit is due to efforts under Obama and Bush to ease the recession, including a stimulus package and bailouts for banks and auto manufacturers. But Obama and Congress still must show they're serious about bringing the budget under control.

For example, Obama last week proposed $17 billion in cuts in the current budget. It was a half-hearted effort; the total turns out to be only one-fifth of the revised increase in this year's deficit. Some of the cuts Obama proposed had also been suggested by Bush, but rejected by Congress.

Why does all this red ink matter? As the deficits pile up year after year, so do the annual interest payments that taxpayers are forced to make.

Interest payments in fiscal 2007 were $237 billion. That was more than the federal government spent on Medicaid.

But Obama's proposed five-year budget plan would raise interest payments to $367 billion by 2013. By 2015, they would rise to more than $500 billion - about the size of the current defense budget.

As interest payments eat up an ever-larger share of federal spending, there's less money available to spend on priorities such as education, housing, or veterans' benefits. That's what Pelosi meant when she talked about mortgaging the future - deficit spending now forces taxpayers down the road to pay for services and programs that they'll never receive.

Obama keeps saying he understands the harm of perpetual borrowing. A recession doesn't wipe away the need for tough budget decisions going forward.

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