The United States ended fiscal year 2009 with a record deficit of $1.42 trillion, and it's headed for more of the same. The public debt, $6.3 trillion in January 2009, now stands at $8.6 trillion. And the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates it will climb to $20.3 trillion in 10 years.
As the government borrows more money to pay its bills, the interest payments rise. As the current $400 billion per year in interest grows, it will increasingly crowd out the government's ability to pay for everything, from prescription drugs to fighter jets.
More borrowing eventually results in higher interest rates, which slows economic growth and makes consumer goods more expensive, too.
The public debt has been growing for more than 30 years, regardless of which party controls the White House or Congress. These town-hall meetings will give leaders in Washington an opportunity to hear the recommendations and priorities of citizens from every walk of life.
The options are numerous. Should taxes be cut or raised? Can entitlement benefits be trimmed, or the retirement age raised? Which programs are expendable?
These are the questions the town-hall gatherings will attempt to answer. The citizens' responses will be presented to the national commission on deficit reduction appointed by President Obama. That panel is to release its recommendations in December.
For more information about the town-hall meetings and AmericaSpeaks, visit its website at www.usabudgetdiscussion.org.