The real deficit and how we came to it

Allan Sloan is a senior editor-at-large at Fortune


Scott Jagow: Last week, the Bush Administration said the next White House will inherit a half a trillion dollar budget deficit. That would be a record.
But Fortune Magazine's Allan Sloan says unfortunately, that's not even close to the real deficit.

Allan Sloan: Well, the number the Bush people have put out is $482 billion, and people are going, "Huuhh!!" Or however you inhale. But the real number is significantly higher than that, the real deficit. In fact, it probably closes in on $900 billion. But it's only money and who's counting?

Jagow: Well, what would people say if it was $900 billion?

Sloan: Well, they'd say my god, it's 6 percent of the Gross Domestic Product. This is the number back in the 80's, in the early Reagan years, that shocked everybody and got Congress and Reagan and all of these people to put in a very large tax increase. And now, we're approaching that number and nobody seems to realize it other than me and one or two other people who're considered cranks -- like Senator Conrad of North Dakota.

Jagow: OK, so explain how you come up with $900 versus the $482 billion.

Sloan: All right, it's Washington math. So we start with 482, the stated number. We then add back $182 billion, which is the Social Security surplus, which reduces the stated deficit, but in theory this money's being set aside for you and me when we get to be old and even crankier than we are. Which makes it 664. Then, the government pays interest on its own securities to itself and its own trust funds, and that's about another $100 billion. Then there's $50-something billion for loans and loan guarantees. So you do all of this and you end up with Senator Conrad's number, which is 815. But he's being way too nice and way too conservative.

Jagow: So Allan, what do you propose we do about this?

Sloan: Well, I propose for starters that people in our profession -- your's and mine -- decide to use the real number instead of the stated number, people might actually listen. But right now, there's no pressure on the White House -- whoever happens to be in the White House -- to care about this. The people from Congress, for the most part, go their own way because there's nobody really in charge of the whole big financial picture. Maybe this will change with the next administration, but I sure wouldn't want to bet on it.

Jagow: All right, Allan Sloan from Fortune Magazine. Thank you.

Sloan: You're welcome, Scott.

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Is there anyway we could band together
and force the finacial press to use the real numbers. It would be pointless
to sue the Federal Governmet but is there a way we could hold the media outlets feet to the fire for not reporting the truth? One frustrated Citizen.

I have been appalled and concerned for the past few years about the deficits coming out of Washington. The former GAO head David Walker quit over the FRAUD committed by this Administration and Congress. I salute your effort to bring it to the attention of the public. This story will cause a small gasp in the minds of listeners, but thats it.

I think you need to pound home the consequences of the huge deficits to the average person.

Oh, this is before the big gushing outflow from Medicare in 2010 that will almost certainly occur.

While your at it, how bout the sheer magnitude of FRAUD we let politicians get by with!

Tell us what the value of the US$ will be then? Think oil is high at $120.00 try buying it with 2010 dollars.

I listened to Allan Sloan give "Washington" analysis to the budget deficit. I think another area to be added to the deficit number is the true cost of the Iraq/Afghanistan wars. As detailed in The Three Trillion Dollar War by Joseph E. Stiglitz and Linda J. Bilmes, the costs of the war have been undercounted. Looks like a "perfect storm" of higher prices, baby boomer health care and social security and war costs will demand more taxes.

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