Paul Greenberg

If there is one number from the vast jumble the Obama administration calls a federal budget, it's this one: The American economy is projected to grow at the rate of 5 percent a year.

That's the figure at the basis of the president's assurances that the country can dig its way out of debt and still afford a full panoply of social entitlements and more to come.

If there were any question that (a) the country is deep in debt, and (b) its chief executive is even deeper in denial, then that fanciful number should remove all doubt. Talk about unrealistic: The only period in recent history when the country's economy grew at 5 percent a year was half a century ago.

The country's rate of economic growth has been hovering below 4 percent a year for decades, and took a sharp drop when the Panic of '08-'09 hit. But our president tells us the economy will now grow 5 percent a year. Maybe his Nobel Prize should have been for a work of fiction.

Despite all glib assurances to the contrary, the laws of classical economics have not been repealed. Higher taxes and more government borrowing do still act as a brake on private investment, costing the economy growth and all that goes with it, like jobs. And tax revenue for government itself.

One of the consequences of living in a free country is that people can still make their own economic decisions, and they may not be inclined to spend and invest when hard-pressed. Adam Smith remains a better guide to the economy than the glib assurances of an Alan Greenspan in a past decade or Ben Bernanke today. Or the pie-in-the-sky projections you'll find in the federal budget as President Obama drives ever deeper into denial.

Who in this administration, do you think, came up with that 5-percent-a-year growth rate -- the well-known Washington statistician, Rosy Scenario? Or has David Stockman, the erratic budget director at the beginning of the Reagan Years, come back and started writing under the name of The Hon. Timothy Geithner, secretary of the treasury?

According to the administration's own projections, the federal deficit at the end of this fiscal year will be $1.6 trillion, will drop below a trillion in 2013, but will never get below $600 billion a year between now and 2020. Which means cumulative national deficits for the years 2012 to 2015 should total some $3.7 trillion.

Add that amount to the current national debt of $14 trillion, and the total national debt soars to more than $18 trillion by the end of fiscal 2015. And to more than $25 trillion by the end of 2020.

And these are the optimistic projections out of this administration. Wildly optimistic.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.