The standard excuse is that it is all due to the Bush Wars. According to costofwar.com, the total cost has been $1.4T since 2001. Our debt in 9/2001 was $5.8T. So the national debt has risen by $10.6T since then with only less than 10% of this money having been spent on the wars. The cost of the war has been roughly $111B dollars per year and this money largely goes to creating jobs (soldiers and millions of job in the US that support the war effort directly and indirectly). Now this is no statement on the morality of either of these wars, but the reality is that they have been a good investment by the US Government. Liberals claim to believe in the idea of stimulus and there really is no better stimulus than war. Entire industries and millions of tax-paying jobs have been sustained by the wars and this means many people who are not on government welfare or unemployment insurance, medicaid, etc. The same dollars likely would have been spent in another form anyway if there had been no wars.
So where has the other $9.2T of debt come from since 2001? The 91% of the debt? Why is the amount of the national debt accelerating as we are pulling out resources from the wars? Indeed, since Obama has become president, who ran on a platform of extricating us from the wars, our national debt has grown by by over $6T. In fact, Obama has borrowed more in 4 years than Bush did in 8 years. What do we spend our money on?
Federalbudget.com gives a breakdown of our yearly expenses. While we spend about $111B per year on the wars (over the last decade), in 2012 we spent $360B on the interest alone on our debt! In fact, we have spent more on interest payments alone during the Obama administration than Bush spent in total on the wars. We spend over $800B per year on health care and over $730B on social services per year. In other words, we are spending as much in one year on health care and social services as we have spent on the wars in the last 11 years!
The $360B we spent last year just on interest is enough to pay for 1.5 million teachers, health care benefits for 14 million veterans, and 2 million police officers. But instead we give this money to foreign countries who hold our debt.
Our deficit last year was $1.27T. Without the wars, our deficit would have been $1.16T, still one of the top four deficits in history. All four have occurred during the Obama administration.
Liberals love to the blame the wars and, by extension, Bush for our current debt crisis. And while we have wasted billions of dollars and thousands of American lives in this immoral effort, it is not the cause of our current problems. In fact, it is probably debt-neutral when the amount of economic stimulus from the wars is understood.
Our out-of-control social programs are the problem. And the Obama administration is furthering this social democratic agenda. Obama has spent $500B on unemployment insurance during his first term. According to usdebtclock.org, we have over $122T in unfunded entitlement programs, mainly social security and medicare. More than 48.7 million American receive food stamps. This number has tripled in the last ten years (chart). And with Obamacare, the amount of money the federal government must generate to pay for these social programs is only increasing.
This is the real fiscal cliff. Government social programs are the cause of our exploding national debt. To paraphrase Margaret Thatcher,
The trouble with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people's money.