Ten Trillion and Counting

What are your thoughts on this report -- and on Obama’s vow to cut the deficit in half by the end of his term in office?

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Thank you for your excellent program. It joins a long line of previous warnings about our national debt, stretching back decades. I have an idea for a follow-on program you could do in the national interest. We have seen the economies of other countries fall into dysfunction because of a chronic inability of their governments to put their finances in order. Is there any reason this could not happen to us? The follow-on program would examine what we might reasonably project could happen here if we become unable to service or refinance our national debt. I know that such a program would be highly controversial. Yet, we need to gain an understanding of such a scenario in order to strengthen our national will to avoid it.

Phillip Brant
Prescott, AZ

FRONTLINE's editors respond:

Click here for more on the long-term dangers of America's debt.


Frontline adds to the evidence of the destructive nature of deficit spending. In 2005 Americans spent more than they made, which hasn't happened since the Great Depression. This addiction to credit and ever increasing debt causes us to live a distorted, and unhealthy, interpretation of life. We want what we cannot afford and debt makes it possible. This increases our emphasis on gratification and reduces our sober estimate of what responsible living should be. I saw a chart recently that showed 18% of Baby Boomers, almost 1/5th , had saved $25,000 or less. The question is, how do we get our economy recalibrated to operate efficiently based on a prudent and responsible spending and savings rate among the citizenry and the Federal Government? I never want to hear another commercial that says, "No money down, no finance charges, and no payments for up to 12 months OAC". That, both privately and Federally, will slowly destroy you. Our children will face the result of our irresponsibility and I hope it will not crush them.

Gregg Littell
Templeton, CA


Lacking from the discussion was a sense of proportion. US debt to GDP ratios should have been compared to other developed economies -- most of whom have older populations and greater debt ratios. Another problem concerned the discussion on the stimulus spending. The current stimulus falls far short of compensating for the drop in private sector demand. As a result we can expect a slower recovery and lower growth and therefore less revenue leading to greater deficits and increased debt. Those who would spend even less citing the need to reduce the debt, would in fact increase the debt. Hence the "paradox of thrift".

Christian VanSchayk
Tesuque, NM


The damage you have done to the journalistic reputation of Frontline by airing this program is immeasurable. Not one word about the terrible drain of the defense budget or corporate subsidies to the largest profiteers in history, not one word about the continuing avoidance of taxes by corporations and the super rich, not one word about how the social security trust fund was raided over the past two decades to "offset" previous deficits, not one word about the class inequalities that have become even greater in the past four months by bailing out the moneyed interests and large banks, minimal words about the extraordinary profits made by corporate health care and pharmaceutical interests, heavy reliance on the arguments of the Peterson campaign to reduce the deficit without any reference to it at all, nor any considered and credible rebuttal; the list can go on. In fact, to be honest, I was anticipating a sponsor advertisement from Peterson's campaign somewhere. Then I understood that this program was in essence a soft advertisement for it.

Worst of all, you relied much too heavily on the crowd that pushes platitudes around Washington Week's round table, rather than on some credible economists or critics of the overall priorities of our economy--with the exception of Mr. Ito. Thus, there was nothing to create perspective, including the clear observation from one of your own slides that the times of the lowest federal deficit also corresponded to the times of highest taxes.

In short, this program hardly qualifies as good solid journalism. Bring back the true Frontline spirit and stop this hogwash.

That being said, I doubt if this will see publication in your comments section. Yet I wonder how many other faithful watchers of the Frontline series would also be in accord with my feelings. I am beyond mad. Here's throwing a few shoes at you.

Tony Litwinko
Glendale, California


I commend you on this program 10 trillion and counting. The sad part of your story is that you are 17 years behind. Ross Perot made the National Debt , medicare and medicaid his focal point of his campaign. He came out with his famous charts and explained to the entire nation about our irresponsible spending. In 1996 he explained the same thing about the cost of entitlement programs exactly what this story is about. The sad thing is that we are going to attempt to close the barn doors after the horses are gone. We are in serious trouble in this nation. I do not see any political figure with a sound solution. During the Clinton presidency it was the pressure of Ross Perot and the Reform party that forced Clinton and the Republican congress to get it's spending under control with the real threat of the swing vote that voted for Perot. Ross Perot has a new web site perotcharts.com which has all of the charts posted.
At the present time I do not see the leadership that is needed on either side of the isle to lead us out of this mess. The approach being taken by the Obama administration is pursuing the same flawed policies that the Bush administration took. I do commend you for this wonderful program and the nation really has to address our severe financial problems.

Hans Giesholt
Tempe, Arizona


I was pleased to see that the "Ten Trillion and Counting" report charted many figures of the debt as % of GDP but was very disappointed to see that the defense budget was, to my recollection, not discussed once. Recently, Rep. Barney Frank and Defense Sec. Gates have commented on how reduction and reassessment of military spending is a high national priority. While restructuring medicare and medicaid is vitally important, most sources I looked up show military pending as more than 50% of our federal budget.

I feel that it was irresponsible for a program examining our national debt to ignore the huge role that military spending plays in our nations finances.

David Getzin
Chicago, IL


After watching "Ten Trillion and Counting" I was curious to look at the comments posted afterward on your website. As suspected, many of them were written complaining about partisan bias and unfair "Bush bashing". However, right or wrong, the numbers don't lie. You can blame them on whatever perceived or implied political bias you want but in the end you ignore them at your peril. You also cannot solve problems - especially problems of this magnitude - by trying to fix the blame instead of trying to fix the problem. Only when intelligent people learn the facts, honestly prove them to be the facts, reason out the possible solutions, and then pick the best solution for ALL of America's citizens can you truly fix this problem. Sadly, I am starting to believe that most Americans will continue to refuse to do any of the these necessary things. Instead, I think they will simply continue to let someone else tell them what to do and, when the problem does not go away quickly enough, will try to find the next person that claims to have the REAL solution. It appears that we have lost the ability to do anything difficult in the present to avoid catastrophe in the future. Our children deserve better...

Jim Thomas
Mariettta, Georgia


The reason for inflated health care costs is not inefficiency (as suggested in the program) but the significant percentage (I've heard 40%) that is turned as profit. Insurers, pharmaceutical companies, private hospitals and the uniquely high wages for providers makes American health care double that of other western industrialized nations even though public health figures are woeful and 20% of the nation is uninsured. The problem is a capitalist health care system!

Michael Hermon
Salt Lake City, UT


I am particularly disturbed by the total lack of the contribution of the cost of litigation in the discussion on the budget and debt. It is a major factor in medical cost. The CYA mentality of the medical community results in much higher costs because of unnecessary tests, prescriptions and procedures.

Another related subject is the nearly complete lack of any in depth discussion on the salaries in the USA compared to other countries for similar jobs. Only when the country begins to better understand our place in the global economy can we begin to have "popular opinion" help direct our leaders toward realistic solutions.

Forest Sweet
Jones Creek, TX


Thanks to PBS and Frontline for presenting the information in this program. Most of it we were aware of and voiced our opposition to our representative and senators to no avail. The one piece of this disastrous puzzle that seems to be left out in almost all discussions is the exodus of decent paying jobs in this country. The working middle class of America has been the backbone of this country paying taxes to support the programs we have become accustomed to such as social security, medicare, schools, police and fire depts.,etc. (socialized programs for a "civilized society") When companies began outsourcing to other countries and then totaling moving their operations to other countries, the backbone of America, the working class, was broken. We fought the passage of NAFTA. We wondered how companies could think their products made in other countries could be sold here to people without jobs! How can cars, houses, etc. be bought if there are NO JOBS??? How can our government exist without taxes from the working public??? Five million American citizens unemployed, maybe more, that is a "heck uv a lot" of lost taxes that could possibly have helped prevent this catastrophe!

Beverly Sweeton
Lebanon, Tennessee


Thank you, thank you for this in depth program and analysis of our current economic crisis. I am recommending viewing this program to as many people as I can.

I disagree with the individual who thought the lack of comment on Clinton's economy implied a bias in this program. They offer no facts to substantiate that claim. Rather, like so many, they are unwilling to accept the facts and want create some fictitious history to suit their bias.

Again, thank you Frontline for providing a hard look at the facts, no matter how painful or disturbing.

Mary Jane Westerlund
Dallas, TX


After watching the latest Frontline "10 Trillion & Counting", I couldn't help feeling sad and at the same time betrayed. Sad for my children, who will grow up in a country with the highest national deficit; no longer the economic leader of the free world.Sad for myself & my wife who have come to this country and have worked hard and educated ourselves, in the hopes of providing a better future for ourselves & our children, to see the fruits of our labor get squashed by power-drunk politicians, who still in these bleak economic times, continue to give partisanship precedence over well-fare of a nation of 300 Million people.

Betrayed by politicians in the Republican Party & in particular George Bush, who sold out the future of my children and this country, to Chinese government and other foreign countries, all for political power and gains. They've done that with false propaganda, political wrangling, and utter defiance of their opponents and even at times their advisers.

I believe George Bush, the Republican party, and members of Democrat party who went along with them, should be impeached and be held accountable for all the wrongs they have done.

I also believe that this country needs a major reform, not only in its economic policies, but also in its political system. It's time for this country, like many other countries in the free world, to open up its political arena. Instead of being monopolized by only two parties, this country should allow other political groups & entities to express their opinions, to truly share the political power, and have a say in how this country should be governed.

Alex Alborzfard
Hamilton, NJ


I loved your program tonight. However, I was disappointed that your program did not go into the economic stimulus packages. Even though the Republicans have increased spending, I believe that John Boehner's economic stimulus plan would have created more jobs and would cost about half as much as the Democrat stimulus plan.

Also I do not understand how increasing money for health care is going to create more jobs and decrease the almost 9% unemployment rate and unfreeze the credit markets. It just seems to me that the only thing that is growing is government. What is the plan to get the private sector growing again?

What do you think about Bernanke saying that the recession could end at the end of this year?

Jared Fontaine
Washington DC, Washington DC


With all of Obama's good intend cutting the deficit in half by the end of his term in office seems impossible after watching this program. I am very fearful and concerned for this country and wonder what's going to happen to the United States in the next 10 or 20 years. Are American's going to wake up and start living by their means? My question is something that nobody seems to answer: How are other countries doing this? Is this an American phenomenon? How are the countries we are borrowing billions of dollars doing it? I am a resident of the United States but a German citizen. German's know what higher taxes mean. And Germans do live well!

Annett Staib
Danbury, CT


Is it possible for the government to rationalize with the American people, and explain too them that taxes will be raised in the future? The truth of the matter is, government need to spend now doing the depression stage and in the recovery stage we will have to pay more taxes, that my friends is how we reach a balance. Also get back to some of are traditional American ways.

Phillip Anthony
Bridgeport, CT


posted march 24, 2009

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