WASHINGTON -- The debt crisis in Europe that momentarily sent global stock markets into a nosedive was but a preview of what our government faces if we do not end our own spending binge.
For decades, Europe has been on a welfare-state joyride that now threatens to bring down the economy and currency of the European Union, which was forced to shoulder $1 trillion in added debt to save some of its members from bankruptcy and economic collapse.
The news focus has been on that action and whether Europe can wean itself from a welfare-state culture that has burdened its peoples with suffocating debt and taxes that will inhibit growth and threaten its future solvency.
But the news focus here should be on our descent into an ocean of debt that also threatens our own economic future for generations to come.
The national government debt is now over $12 trillion (more than $39,000 for every citizen) and if we do not change course, could be more than $20 trillion by the end of this decade.
Driving this debt is federal spending that has accelerated at a furious rate under the Democratic-run Congress and the Obama administration -- yielding unprecedented annual budget deficits that have forced the government to borrow at historic levels.
"This year's deficit is expected to reach $1.5 trillion, which would mark the third straight record annual deficit. The administration projects the deficit will remain above $1 trillion in 2011 and will not drop below $739 billion over the next decade," Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn said in a Senate speech.
"The federal government is now borrowing 43 cents for every dollar it spends. Some $4.8 trillion of the $9 trillion in debt the government will likely accrue over the next 10 years will be interest," the conservative Republican said.
But Democratic leaders have shown little or no concern for the mounting debts that threaten the foundations of our country. Instead of cutting back and tightening the government's belts, they are doing just the opposite of what most Americans have been forced to do in a weakened economy.
They've passed a so-called economic stimulus package that cost us more than $1 trillion, followed by a national health care plan whose price tag will likely come in much higher than that.
They have approved double-digit spending increases for fat-filled duplicative agencies and programs riddled with waste, abuse and mismanagement, Coburn says.
By the way, much if not most of the stimulus spending in Obama's plan went to federal agencies -- that's right, the same ones that the fed's watchdog Government Accountability Office says is wasting all this money.
Coburn puts the amount of taxpayer funds that is wasted, stolen, mismanaged and abused at around $350 billion a year, though it is probably much more than that.
When the Grace Commission, under orders from Ronald Reagan, conducted its government-wide investigation into federal spending practices, it found that one in every three dollars in spending was wasted. Today, that would amount to $1.2 trillion.
The government's biggest spending programs are entitlements -- Social Security and Medicare -- and both are facing insolvency if they are not reformed.
Social Security will start running a deficit in six years. Medicare is expected to run out of money to pay its benefits in 2017. The Postal Service and the Highway Trust Fund are spending more than they are collecting in revenues.
Yet Congress has been so busy enacting new entitlements and expanding existing ones, it hasn't bothered to address any of these shortfalls and impending bankruptcies.
But the Democratic Congress makes sure it takes care of its own finances. Despite 10 percent unemployment, a weakened economy struggling to recover and massive debts, Congress gave itself a 5.8 percent raise for its own operations, "far outpacing the negative growth in family budgets," Coburn says.
While Americans across the country are worried they might lose their jobs, members of Congress are busy trying to keep their jobs by passing out earmarks back home, the feisty lawmaker points out. The value of these earmarks (funds that the executive branch has not requested) rose to nearly $31 billion in fiscal year 2009.
A Newsweek cover story last year was titled "Steep Dept, Slow Growth, and High Spending Kill Empires -- and America Could Be Next."
This is the direction we are now headed under an out-of-control government whose principal goal is to expand the public sector at the expense of the private sector with higher spending, higher debt and higher taxes.
In nearly a year and a half Congress has been adding hundreds of new programs, agencies and expenditures to the federal budget, increasing the size and scope of government at a record pace. That has placed us on a dangerous and unsustainable fiscal path that threatens our country's economy and its national security.
But we have a self-correcting system in place to change direction, and it is called the midterm congressional elections. The voters are angry and fed up with this Congress, and they are going to have the last word on Nov. 2.