There are a lot of terms and questions being thrown around in the media, on blogs, and in the conversations we have with friends and family about the national debt. What is deficit spending? What is the national debt? How is that different from debt held by the public? Why does government debt matter anyway? Can’t the government just print more money?

This morning I was reminded of a great resource on these questions and many more. It’s a working paper from late 2010 by some excellent researchers at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

It’s called “A Guide to Understanding the U.S. Government Debt and Deficits.”

Here’s an informative bit on deficits:

Deficits—amounts of money that the federal government spends in any given year that exceed revenues in that same year—accumulate as debt. In the 2009 fiscal year, the U. S. government budget deficit was $1.4 trillion. When the federal government spends more than it takes in as revenues, it must borrow from the public to finance the deficit. Amounts borrowed are debt, which is a promise to pay at a future date. At the end of the 2009 fiscal year, U.S. government debt to the public totaled $7.6 trillion.

As a matter of fact, U.S. government debt to the public now amounts to $11,253,321,189,602.66 (according to the Treasury Department’s “Debt to the Penny” webpage). That’s an increase of about $3.4 trillion in the past three years. And it doesn’t include $4.7 trillion in “intragovernmental holdings,” which include the IOUs to the Medicare and Social Security Trust Funds.

The real question is, when promises outstrip the American economy’s ability to pay, can they be kept? The obvious answer is no, which is why we need to get real on overspending now. This isn’t a matter of the wealthy paying more. It’s a matter of right-sizing the government for the American economy.

If you agree, support our efforts at the Coalition to Reduce Spending. Sign our voter pledge, suggest a candidate to sign our candidates’ pledge, or consider a donation to help our efforts. We need you to join us today.