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Can Congress balance its checkbook?

I received a pleasant surprise last week.

My great-great-great-great-grandchildren sent me a check for $1,400. I would like to thank them, but there is a little problem. They aren’t born yet!

Confused already? OK, the truth is the U.S. Federal Treasury sent me $1,400 as part of the latest $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief act.

But, again, there is a little problem. The federal government had to borrow that money and I can positively say I won’t live long enough — nor will any of my children, nor any of my grand- or great-grandchildren — to repay this loan.

Try that the next time you borrow money for a house or a car. Just tell your banker that you want the car or house right now and that, maybe, someday, one of your future descendants will pay the loan off. Oh, good luck with that. Let me know how it works out.

In round numbers, the federal government brings in about $4 trillion a year in revenue from the taxes we pay. Once again, a little problem: They spend about $5 trillion, so have been going into debt by about $1 trillion dollars a year for the last 10 years.

Lately, our representatives in Washington have blown those numbers out of the water, and, as of today, our national debt is over $28 trillion, which is a number none of us can begin to comprehend.

I have tried in previous columns throughout the years to explain how much $1 trillion really is, and I am going to try it again.

Follow me, if you can:

Let’s say $1 equals one second. A million seconds was 12 days ago. A billion seconds was 32 years ago. And, now, the trillion thing: A trillion seconds ago 31,688 years ago!

And that’s just $1 trillion, not the $28 trillion we owe.

Mind-boggling for sure, at least it is for me.

Folks, that means that, if you are one of the 125 million taxpayers in the U.S., your share of our debt is $225,000.

We could solve this insanity in a week if you and I — along with every other taxpayer in the U.S. — would simply send your check for $225,000 to Washington in the next couple of days.

Or maybe we could just pay it over time, like we do our cars and houses. Let’s just say every taxpayer pays back that loan at $1,000 a month. Yes, that is a big monthly payment for most Americans, but let’s say we did, anyway. That would bring down our debt, assuming we balance our budget and don’t go further into debt, by $2.7 billion a year.

So how many years would it take us Americans to pay off our debt if all the taxpayers paid an extra $1,000 a month in taxes? The answer is over 10,000 years!

See, I told you it was near-impossible to explain how big a trillion is.

So, whom, exactly, did we borrow the money from?

Well, of the $28 trillion we owe, 70% is owned by us — and by “us” I mean U.S. banks and investors, the Federal Reserve, state and local governments, mutual funds, pension funds, insurance companies, and savings bonds.

The other 30% percent is owned mostly by foreign countries, with China being one of the largest. That’s right, Communist China, our largest economic competitor and, some would say, our largest potential threat.

So, who’s to blame for that insanity?

The answer is the U.S. Congress. You remember them, don’t you? That’s the 535 representatives we send to Washington to manage our nation and our money, supposedly in our best interests. For it is Congress who determines how much we bring in in taxes, and it is the same Congress who determines how much we spend.

It is those folks, who obviously can’t balance our own checkbook, who we turn to for national leadership, and I am beyond disappointed with them. I am disgusted and ashamed of them. Let me add mad to that list, too.

You see, they borrow money from my grandchildren, with absolutely no plan or ability to ever repay them, and I think I have a right to be mad. No other generation in American history has done that to their kids.

That brings up the question: How will my grandchildren ever be able to afford a government of their own when they will be burdened with paying off Congress’s complete fiscal mismanagement of our country?

Shame on them for making this grandpa mad. I will remember, and I hope you will remember, too, come next election time.

We deserve an answer to one simple question: Who and how will we repay our national debt? I sure don’t have the answer.

What’s worse, Congress doesn’t either.

I welcome your thoughts at gregoryawtry@awtry.com.

Greg Awtry is the former publisher of the Scottsbluff (Neb.) Star-Herald and Nebraska’s York News-Times. He is now retired and living in Hubbard Lake. Greg can be contacted at gregawtry@awtry.com.

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