Quick question: What is bigger than the economy of India, and almost as big as the economy of Canada? It's larger than the national debt of America during its first 200 years in existence, and is equal to $4,700 for every man, woman, and child in America.
If you guessed the federal deficit for fiscal year 2009, you would be correct.
It's the federal budget deficit for 2009, more than three times the most red ink ever amassed in a single year.
Treasury figures released Friday showed that the government spent $46.6 billion more in September than it took in, a month that normally records a surplus. That boosted the shortfall for the full fiscal year ending Sept. 30 to $1.42 trillion. The previous year's deficit was $459 billion.
As a percentage of U.S. economic output, it's the biggest deficit since World War II.
Of course in WWII we were a creditor nation with the strongest industrial base in the world. Neither of those things are true today.
But the really scary thing is looking forward.
Forecasts of more red ink mean the federal government is heading toward spending 15 percent of its money by 2019 just to pay interest on the debt, up from 5 percent this fiscal year.
Friday's report showed that the government paid $190 billion in interest over the last 12 months on Treasury securities sold to finance the federal debt. Experts say this tab could quadruple in a decade as the size of the government's total debt rises to $17.1 trillion by 2019.
Without significant budget cuts, that would crowd out government spending in such areas as transportation, law enforcement and education. Already, interest on the debt is the third-largest category of government spending, after the government's popular entitlement programs, including Social Security and Medicare, and the military.
While the wars and Wall Street bailouts certainly had a large part in this mess, the biggest reason was the recession.
Individual and corporate income taxes dwindled as a result of the recession. Coupled with the impact of the Bush tax cuts earlier in the decade, tax revenues fell 16.6 percent, the biggest decline since 1932.