Zeroing In on a Trillion

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By Art Buchwald
Tuesday, January 2, 2007

You see it in the newspapers all the time -- a trillion dollars. It may be the cost of Medicare or national defense, or the size of the national debt.

When I read that George Bush is taking us into 2007 with a national debt of more than $8.5 trillion, I immediately went to my Webster's Dictionary. It said, "Trillion 1. A cardinal number represented in the USA and France by one followed by 12 zeros, and in Great Britain and Germany by 18 zeros."

Not too long ago a trillion dollars scared the heck out of everybody.

If we don't repay the national debt, the country will go bankrupt, and our children will have to pay for it.

Even the powers that be who talk about it all the time have never seen a trillion dollars -- and if they say they have, they are lying.

The government servants who talk about it take home about $100,000 a year, or less.

I asked Bud Montana, who works for the Office of Management and Budget, "Isn't it hard to spend your day devoting yourself to balancing a trillion-dollar budget, and then go home at night to your wife, who tells you the price of milk went up 4 cents?"

"I never mix apples with oranges. The country's debt is pie in the sky -- milk is real money, and every time the cost goes up a penny, my wife becomes furious."

"Still," I said, "it must make you nervous when you put 12 zeros after a cardinal number in a report."

"It isn't easy. But no one has ever seen a trillion dollars, so if they question my balance sheet, I say, 'Okay, you count it.' "

"I can see saying a trillion dollars, but why, when you report the national debt, does it come in at something like 8 trillion 600 billion 900 million 200 dollars and 20 cents?"

"When it comes to our debt, nobody will believe a round number."

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© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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