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Federal Deficits, Debt Elude Easy Answers

Geithner before House Budget

Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner testifies before the House Budget Committee, March 2009.   J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo hide caption

itoggle caption J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo

There's a growing consensus that something has to be done about the federal deficits and debt.

But that's about where the agreement ends. As was underscored last week when the co-chairs of President Obama's fiscal responsibility panel released their proposal for restraining the debt and deficits, there's no mind meld about how to tackle the growing fiscal mess.

Which was one point made in an All Things Considered report by NPR's Mara Liasson in advance of another series of proposals to be made public Wednesday.

Agreement is so hard to come by because either raising taxes or cutting beloved programs is complicated by real human concerns and considerations like fairness.

By contrast, putting a man on the Moon was a relatively easy problem to solve. No one was worried about fairness then.

As Alice Rivlin, who was Office of Management and Budget director in the Clinton Administration told Mara:

I think the public doesn't understand the choices very well yet and that's because in the election there were a lot of people saying it's really easy just do this one simple thing. Just cut the spending or just raise the taxes or just cut out waste, fraud and abuse.

But if you sit down with the numbers and look at what the government actually does and how it pays for it, it's obvious that there is no simple solution.

As Mara reports, Rivlin is a member of the task force scheduled to unveil on Wednesday its recommendations for tackling the budget problems.

For anyone who wants to try their hand at this balancing the budget and shrinking the deficit stuff using the online fiscal calculators, the Washington Post's Erza Klein had a recent post on his blog that brings several of them together.

As you'll discover, the choices are confusing even for someone who sees themselves as relatively well informed on this issues. I found them all somewhat confusing.

Still, you should be able to see a theme with them, that it's mainly health care spending driving up deficits and the national debt. Unless that projected spending is brought to heel, we're pretty much just kidding ourselves.

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