The Oct. 15 news story "Federal Deficit Fell in Past Year" did not accurately describe the country's fiscal condition.

The article said that the $319 billion deficit in 2005, when measured as a share of the economy, is far from the record levels of the 1980s. That fails to account for the Social Security surplus masking the true deficit level. When the Social Security and other trust fund surpluses also being spent are added in, the debt in 2005 actually increased by $551 billion. It is important also to look at increases in debt to measure our nation's fiscal picture, because it shows what taxpayers eventually will have to pay back.

Two decades ago, we had almost no Social Security surplus, so each year's deficit was closer to the growth in the debt than it is now. Today, the Social Security surplus is about $170 billion. Instead of being saved for Social Security, that "surplus" is being used to pay for other government spending and tax cuts.

Further, in the 1980s the baby boomers had not started to retire. Now the leading edge of that generation will begin to retire in less than three years. Anyway you look at the data, we are headed for a fiscal train wreck.


U.S. Senator (D-N.D.)


The writer is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Budget Committee.