It's nearly April 15th, and in honor of the occasion, I've decided to post a few figures.
Amount (pdf) the government took in, 2005: $1,359,204 million (excluding Social Security and retirement receipts)
Amount the government spent on interest on the public debt in 2005: $352,350,252,507.90.
Interest payments on the debt as a percentage of tax receipts: 25.9%.
Think about that. Over a quarter of what we pay in taxes goes to pay interest on the debt. If we had been willing to raise taxes to pay for what our government spent in the past, instead of running up $8,402,073,299,705.08 in debt, we could have used that money in all sorts of interesting ways. For instance, we could have eliminated the $319 billion FY2005 unified budget deficit, eliminating any need to borrow money during that entire year. And that's with the Bush tax cuts, the war in Iraq, etc. With the $33 billion dollars we had left over, we could have fully funded the restoration of the wetlands needed to protect New Orleans (around $14 billion), fully fund the rebuilding of the levees ($10 billion and counting), and still have $9 billion left over for other things. Rail security! Fixing crumbling infrastructure! Fully funding Head Start! The possibilities are endless.
Instead of which, we get to spend the money on interest, which buys us nothing. This -- $352,350,252,507.90 -- was the price we paid in 2005 alone for letting people convince us that we didn't actually have to live within our means.
Just imagine how that sum will grow when interest rates rise. It will be a huge proportion of our budget, and one that is entirely beyond our control.
That's why sometime soon, some politician is going to have to have the guts to say the obvious: that we need to raise taxes if we want to get out of this hole. When that happens, we need to have their back if we don't want to go on spending money for nothing forever.