6 Ways to Look at the National Debt: Is the Debt Problem Solvable?

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Public engagement is essential as well. Once voters understand the stakes involved – not just for themselves but for future generations -- they become more willing to support the difficult changes that can put the nation on a better course.

Don't Worry About It So Much: Dan Gardner, author of Future Babble: Why Expert Predictions Fail and Why We Believe Them Anyway and Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear

The recession is over but the economy is weak and unemployment is high. Then there's the deficit. It's a mountain. And every year, it gets piled on top of the debt, which is now a number with so many zeroes it's impossible to even understand what it means.

Meanwhile, China is booming and the experts say it's only a matter of time -- less than 20 years -- before it overtakes the United States and becomes the world's number one economy.

Lots of people think America's best days are over, that there's only stagnation and decline ahead. They may be right.

That's the story today. But there's something interesting about the preceding paragraphs. Change only one word -- replace "China" with "Japan" -- and they are an exact description of the United States in 1992.

One of the best-selling books that year was a frightening prophecy called "Bankruptcy 1995." That didn't happen, of course. In fact, the opposite did. Contrary to countless expert forecasts, the economy surged, the political system worked, a huge deficit became a huge surplus, and the United States enjoyed a golden age.

This doesn't prove the threat today isn't real, or that predictions of doom will fail. But it does show that nothing is inevitable.

End the Wars, Cut Defense Spending, Tax Corporations and the Wealthy: Justin Ruben, Executive Director of MoveOn.org

To solve this problem, it's important to know where the deficit came from. First, Republicans cut taxes for millionaires and billionaires, leaving a gaping hole in the budget. Then we got into two very long, expensive wars. And then Wall Street tanked our economy.

So to bring the deficit under control, we need to roll back the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy and restore tax rates to what they were during the Clinton years.

We also need to make big corporations pay their fair share. When a company like GE makes billions in profits and pays literally zero in taxes, it's an insult to every hardworking American.

Next we need to wind down these wars and bring defense spending back to the level it was at when George W. Bush took office in 2000.

We need to rein in the power of Big Insurance and Big Pharma, who are driving up health care costs at an unsustainable rate. And finally, we need investments in education and innovation that can keep our economy strong and America competitive.

These are common sense measures that will reduce the deficit and bring the American Dream within reach for millions who are struggling. All are popular with voters, too.

So next time you hear a politician saying we need to fix the deficit by slashing education, or social security, or vital services, take a look at who's paying for their campaigns, and you'll have some idea why they won't talk about the real drivers of the deficit.

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