A great catastrophe

It is doubtful the late Sen. Everett Dirksen, R-Ill., would have foreseen a time when a bit of sarcasm attributed to him would become obsolete.

Sometime during the 1960s, it is said, Dirksen warned against apathy regarding the national debt by commenting, “A billion here and a billion there, and pretty soon, you’re talking real money.”

But the B-word means nothing in Washington, these days. Now, it’s a trillion here, a trillion there … and still, no one seems to be worried.

A few people are. They warn that the national debt is a millstone around the necks of our children and grandchildren. Allowing it to continue increasing will have profoundly detrimental effects not just in government, but for each and every American.

Last week, the official national debt passed $27 trillion. When Dirksen died in 1969, it was just $354 billion.

It is true that much of the debt’s growth this year has been due to COVID-19. Congress and the White House have authorized enormous aid packages to help Americans get through the epidemic. One lawmaker estimated last week that $3.8 trillion in assistance had been authorized. White House and congressional negotiators continue to haggle over another round of spending, perhaps as much as $2.2 trillion.

Hundreds of billions of dollars already appropriated and being recommended for future spending have nothing to do with the epidemic, however. Some on Capitol Hill see COVID-19 as an opportunity to resolve unrelated problems.

A trillion here, a trillion there …

Pretty soon, we’ll be talking a real catastrophe.

By Patricia Older