Check mark, check, checkmark, tick the time bomb of the national disaster. Every second, the ticking becomes louder, but you will not hear a muffled sound that looks more like a white noise.
On all media platforms, the threat has not been reported. Maybe the consequences are incomprehensible to be discussed in 90-second press segments sandwiched between commercial breaks and discussion groups
Congress members from both parties are also deaf to ticking. Inherently, they know that any attempt to defuse the bomb runs the risk of being removed from office. The same is true in the White House, where Donald Trump, like Barack Obama before him, never mentions this impending disaster.
Among the hordes of Democratic candidates of 2020, count on the time bomb to be a non grata subject while Medicare-for-all is gaining ground and Medicare-as-is remains a deadly component of the bomb.
The fate of which I speak is the unfunded liability – $ 122 trillion in payments the government owes and promised to its citizens – without the funds to meet those obligations.
According to the Treasury Department, the US unfunded liability includes social security (with Medicare Parts A, B and D), the federal debt held by the public, and benefits to employees and veterans.
Before you call me an alarmist, I refer you to the American debt clock. Here, you can watch our time bomb in real time, with $ 122 trillion in unfunded debt, which is one of the biggest detonators.
Surely, such an incomprehensible number makes you gasp. But now, get ready to gag, because in 2023, the "time stamped debt" provides an unfunded liability of $ 157 trillion, an increase of $ 35 trillion in just four years.
I would bet that a majority of citizens have no idea what "just" looks like a trillion dollars, or even of this one. For the record, one trillion dollars is 1,000 times 1 billion. And, since $ 1 billion is thrown around Washington as a round-up error, it's instructive to remember that one billion itself equals 1,000 times a million.
Thus, to stop the wow factor, payments promised by the United States today amount to 122 billion dollars. (Due to the fast figures of the debt clock, I used zeros as placeholders.)
To better understand why unfunded liabilities are the least discussed and least reported national crisis we face, we must compare $ 122 trillion to other significant figures in the US economy.
For example, the debt clock shows federal tax revenues at $ 3.3 trillion but spending at $ 4.2 billion. This annual imbalance means that not only are we promising too much, but we can not cover our current costs and are falling further behind – every second of every day.
This puzzle is reflected in the rise in national public debt – defined in the debt clock as "the nominal amount or principal amount of marketable and non-marketable securities currently outstanding" – which is rising today. $ 21.9 trillion. But in 2023, the debt account predicts that the national debt will grow to $ 25.6 trillion.
Certainly, the United States is a generous country that wants to take care of its population – a quarter of them are aging baby boomers who retire at the rate of 10,000 people a day. But our country is on an unsustainable economic trajectory, especially when current and future government obligations are mandated by the law.
Consider that for the 2018 fiscal year, "health care" expenditures accounted for 27% of the federal budget and "pensions" (including social security) accounted for 25%. Together, this 52% of the budget will continue to grow as the population ages. Meanwhile, Congress is making no effort to change this reckless path, which greatly limits the extent to which we can afford to invest in our collective national future.
At least the Congressional Budget Office was honest when its 2018 report said: "The prospect of significant and growing indebtedness poses significant risks for the country and poses great challenges for policy makers."
These "substantial risks" and "significant challenges" – which are now too difficult to address and resolve politically – are embedded in the debt bomb and should explode sooner than you think. As noted last June, the Trust Fund for Medicare Hospitals is expected to run out of money in 2026. (Hey, 2020 candidates, remember to mention it when you scroll through Medicare for all.)
In addition, in our annual social security statements (in small print with an asterisk), we are cautioned that "By 2034, the social charges collected will be enough to pay only about 77% of the benefits provided."
Before this line, we read the most absurd and political wish: "Your estimated benefits are based on the law in force. Congress has made changes to the law in the past and can do so at any time. " Sure that they will do it. Anytime now!
The reduction of social security benefits – the main factor of unfunded liabilities – will be painful now, but even more painful in 2034, when current inaction leads to drastic cuts. (Cue riot wheelchair and walker.)
We all know the adage "The first step in solving a problem is to admit that you have a problem." Unfortunately, our elected leaders refuse to publicly admit that our national future rests on promises and financial obligations that our government is unable to achieve.
My recommendation is to aim to increase public awareness. At this time, a government shutdown clock is constantly appearing on a major cable network. When this crisis comes to an end, what will happen if all the information networks permanently display the debt clock with an unfunded liability of $ 122 trillion – the 15 figures flowing rapidly in real time – at the same corner of the screen?
Perhaps then, when the public is fully aware of the problem, our leaders will be forced to discuss very difficult and real solutions followed by legislative actions.
But doing nothing is not an option.