William F. B. O'Reilly is a Republican consultant.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is not someone I'd normally quote. But the fanatical anti-Semite stated a truth more clearly last week than either of our presidential candidates have throughout their campaigns: Debt will destroy the United States of America.
"How long can a government with a $16 trillion foreign debt remain a world power?" the nuclear aspirant wondered aloud.
As hard as it is to listen to Ahmadinejad, it was actually refreshing to hear someone -- anyone -- speak out plainly on our worsening debt crisis. Few American politicians will do it, because if they did, they would almost surely lose votes.
The American public is sick of bad news. We don't want to hear more of it. And we certainly don't want to know how much we'd have to scale back spending to get whole again. We want to talk about jobs and preserving our entitlements -- not eating our spinach.
But it's a lie to ignore the sea of red ink we are bleeding all over the globe, and a dangerous one.
I was startled to learn that mineral-rich Russia has virtually no debt. It explains the cat-eating-the-canary grin that's been plastered across Vladimir Putin's face for the past five years. Russia, our Cold War foe -- the very one that bankrupted itself under the Soviet system -- now holds a dramatically cleaner balance sheet than we do. The same goes for China, to whose children I tried to mail my peas as a child.
According to the International Monetary Fund, the U.S. ratio of debt to gross domestic product is a staggering 102.9 percent and rising. That is, we owe more money than our entire annual economic output. Russia's debt to GDP, in contrast, is 9.6% and China's is a manageable 25.8%.
U.S. taxpayers now pay more than $800 billion a year just to service interest on that debt, which grows by more than $4 billion per day. We get nothing for that money. We pay more in yearly debt service than the annual state budgets of California, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Florida, Texas, Illinois, Ohio, and Pennsylvania combined ($789 billion). Think about that.
What's especially frightening, though, is that our current debt service is based on some of the lowest interest rates in history. Those rates will rise just as surely as the sun will tomorrow. Ask Ireland. Ask Greece. Ask Spain. The only question is when. And when that when arrives, we are going to be in awful pickle.
The only time the political parties speak about debt it is to accuse the other side of creating it. And both parties are right: U.S. national debt has more than doubled since 2000, when it stood at $5.6 trillion.
President George W. Bush added $4.3 trillion during his eight years in the Oval Office, and President Obama added $6 trillion more in the past four, bringing the total to more than $16 trillion. We have another $60 trillion in unfunded federal entitlement program liabilities, but that's a topic for a different day.
But did you notice how little the subject of debt came up during the debates? We spoke more about Big Bird and bayonets than we did about budget overruns.
On Nov. 7, just under half of American voters are going to be extremely disappointed that their candidate lost the election. The most partisan of us will be angry, and the finger-pointing will go on.
But it won't do us any good. We still will be adding 37 cents of every dollar we spend to the debt every day. Maybe after the election we can start talking about that -- in the 10 or 12 months before the next election cycle begins.
"Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing...after they have exhausted all other possibilities," Winston Churchill famously said.
I herewith admit exhaustion. How about you?
William F. B. O'Reilly is a Newsday columnist and a Republican political consultant.