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Where Does the Money Go?: Your Guided Tour to the Federal Budget Crisis [NOOK Book]


From the editors of the award-winning nonpartisan Web site Public Agenda Online comes this irreverent and candid guide to the federal budget crisis that breaks down into plain English exactly what the fat cats in Washington are arguing about

Federal debt will affect your savings, your retirement, your mortgage, your health care, and your children. How well do you understand...

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Where Does the Money Go?: Your Guided Tour to the Federal Budget Crisis

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From the editors of the award-winning nonpartisan Web site Public Agenda Online comes this irreverent and candid guide to the federal budget crisis that breaks down into plain English exactly what the fat cats in Washington are arguing about

Federal debt will affect your savings, your retirement, your mortgage, your health care, and your children. How well do you understand the government decisions that will end up coming out of your pocket?

Here is essential information that every American citizen needs—and has the right—to know. This guide to deciphering the jargon of the country's budget problem covers everything from the country's $9 trillion and growing debt to the fact that, for thirty-one out of the last thirty-five years, the country has spent more on government programs and services than it has collected in taxes. It also explores why elected leaders on every side of the fence have so far failed to effectively address this issue and explains what you can do to protect your future.

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Editorial Reviews

New York Times
“If you are going to buy just one book in this presidential election year...consider Where Does the Money Go?…. A book that manages to be entertaining and irreverent while serving as an informative primer on a subject that is crucial to the future of all Americans.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061836749
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 3/17/2009
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 875,983
  • File size: 4 MB

Meet the Author

Scott Bittle is an award-winning journalist, policy analyst, and web producer who has written extensively about the federal budget, energy, and foreign policy.

Jean Johnson writes frequently about public opinion and public policy and is the author of You Can’t Do It Alone, a book on how parents, teachers, and students see education issues. Both authors are senior fellows at Public Agenda and blog frequently for the Huffington Post, National Geographic, and other outlets.

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Read an Excerpt

Where Does the Money Go?
Your Guided Tour to the Federal Budget Crisis
By Scott Bittle
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.
Copyright © 2008 Scott Bittle
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780061241871

Chapter One

The Six Points You Need to Know to Understand the Federal Budget Crisis

Finance Minister:
"Here is the Treasury Department's report, sir. I hope you'll find it clear."

Groucho Marx:
"Clear? Huh. Why, a four-year-old child could understand this report . . . Run out and find me a four-year-old child—I can't make head or tail of it."

—Duck Soup, 1933

Open any newspaper, tune in to any newscast, and someone will be tossing around billion- and trillion-dollar estimates about government spending and squabbling about the nation's finances. It certainly sounds important, but they don't make it easy for people who aren't policy wonks to understand. The numbers are mind-boggling, and the jargon is even worse. Unfunded liabilities, revenue neutral tax reform, entitlement spending, discretionary domestic programs, baseline assumptions, percentage of GDP. Faced with phrases like these, most of us reach for the remote to see what's going on in TVLand. But this debate is crucial to our future. Deep inside, you know it matters; otherwise, you wouldn't have opened this book.

Thebudget issue is a sneaky, slow-boil kind of a problem, one that's easy to avoid, and Americans have been doing just that for years. Politicians don't like to talk about cutting programs or raising taxes—which we'll no doubt need to do in some form or another in order to fix this budgetary mess. Journalists aren't making the country's budget problems the top news every night, either. After all, there are plenty of interesting scandals, crimes, and celebrity melodramas that make better headlines. And yes, fellow Americans, we've earned our share of the blame, too.

Let's be frank. When was the last time you cast your vote for a candidate who campaigned on getting the country's finances back on the right track? What about one who wants to cut government programs you like and raise taxes (which no one likes)? What do we talk about instead? Who had the most glittering celebrities at their fund-raiser. Who had the best zinger in the debate. Which candidate is making the cleverest use of YouTube. What a candidate did or did not do when he or she was twenty-something. No wonder so few people want to run for office these days—how would you like to have to defend everything you did and said in your twenties, or your thirties for that matter? And what about that pet question from the pre-pre-election polls: Which candidate would be more fun to have dinner with? How many Americans actually have dinner with presidential candidates, anyway? Go ahead, ask Mitt Romney or Barack Obama to meet you at Chili's sometime. See what happens. Is this what we really want from these people? Why are we spending time on this?

The truth is that those of us who aren't in government or politics—those of us who generally watch from the sidelines trying to make sense of it all—had better start paying attention to the debate about the federal budget and the huge expenses we face in the coming decades. What's decided (or not decided) over the next few years will spell big changes for the way we live our daily lives. How the country solves or doesn't solve this problem will affect our paychecks, our investments, our mortgages, our kids' prospects in life, what kind of health care we'll get, our chances of ever getting to retire—even whether we live in a country that's fair, stable, and prosperous. And let's not kid ourselves. Right now, the savvy and well connected are already strolling the halls of Congress pushing for solutions that benefit them. So ignoring this debate is really not a very good option.

Fortunately, once you strip away all the confusing terms and unnecessary shouting, the budget problem isn't as hard to understand as the people in charge would like you to think.

The budget debate, parking lot version

If you missed this on Entertainment Tonight or Entourage, a "parking lot version" is what Hollywood producer types call the shortest, simplest description of a movie or TV idea. Basically, it's what you can say to a studio exec if you're lucky enough to meet one in the parking lot, and you have to pitch your idea in the time it takes to walk to your cars. In Manhattan, which is short on parking lots, it's called the "elevator version."

We've reduced the budget issue to six essential points. Get these, and you're a long way to understanding what all the hoopla is about.

1. For thirty-one out of the last thirty-five years, the country has spent more on government programs and services than it has collected in taxes.

2. Every year the government comes up short, it borrows money to cover the difference. We've now built up a very big debt—roughly $9 trillion, and yes, that is trillion with a t.

3. The country will have humongous additional expenses over the next couple of decades as the baby boomers begin to retire and need more medical care.

4. There is no realistic way government can lower taxes (or even keep them at current levels), spend money on everything people want the government to do (at least according to the polls), and still end up with a balanced budget.

5. If we keep on going the way we're going, the debt will get bigger and begin to endanger the U.S. economy and our own personal finances and plans. And the government won't have enough money to pay for Social Security and Medicare for the boomers and still do what most of us expect government to do.

6. A substantial portion of the country's debt is held in foreign countries. Right now, these foreign investors consider U.S. government bonds one of the safest places in the world to put their money, but they could decide at some point that Europe or China or some other place is a better bet. This would be the global equivalent of a store clerk seizing your credit card and cutting it up.


Excerpted from Where Does the Money Go? by Scott Bittle Copyright © 2008 by Scott Bittle. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Preface     ix
The Six Points You Need to Know to Understand the Federal Budget Crisis     1
So What's the Worst That Could Happen?     20
A Little Clarification Is in Order     36
The Tax Tour (or, Money Comes...)     55
And Money Goes...     80
Social Security and Medicare-and Why Closing the Deficit Isn't Enough     97
If You Think Social Security Is Bad, Wait Till You Meet Medicare     117
Glib Answers to a Tough Problem     128
Do We Have to Throw Granny out on the Street?     137
Waste Not, Want Not     157
The Liberals and the Conservatives     186
Politics, as Usual     192
Has K Street Become Washington's Main Street?     212
2010-the High Noon of Budget Politics     235
Tackling the Long-Term Problem One Bite at a Time     247
Ok, if You're So Smart...     264
The "Where Does the Money Go" Voter Protection Kit     281
The Last Word: Six Realities We Need to Accept to Solve This Problem     302
Places to Go, People to Meet     309
Acknowledgments     321
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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 23, 2008


    This book has literally changed my life as I understand so much more about our tax dollars, government funded programs, and so much more. It's a great book that all Americans should read so that we understand the serious issues with the baby boomers retiring, and where that leaves the rest of us. It's written in such a way that it's actually an easy read too, if you can imagine such a topic being easy to read about. I feel so much smarter about the U.S. economy now, and since reading it, I've been inspired to read more about oil and learn more about our economy overall. I'm buying more of this book to share with friends.

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    Posted January 9, 2012

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