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Can there be a ‘new normal’ of responsible federal spending?

Members of Congress and the White House had no realistic option but to approve about $3 trillion in emergency spending to battle COVID-19’s devastating impact on the economy. Even more federal money may have to be appropriated for the purpose.

But last week, we were reminded of another epidemic that threatens to harm Americans severely — of our government spending beyond its means.

On Friday, the Treasury Department announced the U.S. budget deficit has hit an all-time high, of $3 trillion. That is just for the first 11 months of the fiscal year. Hundreds of millions of dollars more will be added to the total.

Obviously, the vast majority of this year’s deficit is linked solidly to the pandemic. Had Congress and President Donald Trump not acted, the economy could well have plunged into a full-fledged depression. In any event, tens of millions of Americans laid off from their jobs would have suffered dreadfully, even more than they have.

Still, that $3 trillion deficit has boosted the national debt to $26.7 trillion, an amount most of us cannot comprehend. Think of it this way: The national debt is 136.7% of the U.S. gross national product — the total value of all goods and services produced annually in this country. Each and every one of us would have to work for about a year and four months to pay off the debt, with nothing left over for any other purpose.

Though politicians frequently decry the free-spending leviathan that our government has become, no one ever seems to do anything about it. To the contrary, leaders in both political parties are more likely to propose new spending initiatives.

It is getting worse. Just 20 years ago, the national debt totaled only 56.4% of GDP. Clearly, we are spending our children and grandchildren into a deep hole of debt.

Much has been written and said about the “new normal” after the coronavirus pandemic has passed. Wouldn’t it be nice if, for a change, if the new normal included those who represent us in Washington began taking the debt epidemic seriously?

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