FRONTLINE: Ten Trillion and Counting
All of the federal government’s efforts to stem the tide of the financial meltdown have added hundreds of billions of dollars to an already staggering national debt, a sum that is expected to double over the next 10 years to more than $23 trillion. Ten Trillion and Counting traces the politics behind this mounting debt and investigates what some say is a looming crisis that makes the current financial situation pale in comparison.
The journey begins as correspondent Forrest Sawyer takes viewers to a secret location: the Treasury’s debt auction room, where the U.S. government sells securities backed by the “full faith and credit of the United States.” On this day, the government is auctioning $67 billion of Treasury securities. The money borrowed will be used to fund services and programs that the government cannot pay for through tax revenues alone.
Observers warn that the United States’ reliance on borrowing to fund essential programs is a dangerous gamble. For the first time, investors are beginning to question the ability of federal government to meet its growing financial obligations, and fading confidence can have dire consequences.
FRONTLINE: Ten Trillion and Counting was originally broadcast March 24, 2009 on PBS.
- “You might have a situation where there is one day when the government says we need to sell several billion dollars of bonds, and nobody shows,” says Economist reporter Greg Ip. “No money to pay the Social Security checks, no money to give to the states for their Medicaid programs. Cut, cut, cut, cut, cut.”
Yet more borrowing is exactly what the Obama administration plans to do: hundreds of billions to bail out the banks and other financial institutions; tens of billions more for the auto industry; $275 billion for homeowners and mortgage lenders; and a giant $787 billion stimulus package to jump-start an economy spiraling downward. Just like the Bush administration before it, Obama and his team are going to borrow big.
“That’s the paradox of the situation that we’re in now,” observes Matt Miller, author of The Tyranny of Dead Ideas. “Government has got to run big deficits to stimulate the economy, deficits that would have been unthinkable … because government’s the only entity with the wherewithal to prop up a demand in the economy when businesses and consumers are all pulling back.”
- “This is a program everyone needs to watch if the search for solutions is ever going to get beyond the simplistic, accusatory catchphrases that sometimes seem to pass for economic-policy debate in Washington.”
The New York Times – Neil Genzlinger
- Executive Producer, Tom Yellin
Senior Producer, Mark Obenhaus
Produced by, Gabrielle Tenenbaum
Correspondent, Forrest Sawyer
Written by , Mark Obenhaus and Forrest Sawyer
Edited by, Kenneth Levis and Peter R. Livingston, Jr.
Assistant Editor, Josh Freed
Camera, Mark Stoddard
Associate Producer, Thomas F. Beckner, IV
Archival Researcher, Tammie Rhee
Senior Production Associate, Charles Farrel
Researcher, Sam Obenhaus
Additional Editing , Marc Tidalgo
Graphics , Victoria Nece
Production Assistant, Tyler Dozier
Sound Recordist, Mark Wilson
Sound Mix, Jim Sullivan
Original Music, Ben Decter
Supervising Producer, Christina Lowery
Online Editor, Jim Ferguson
Executive Producer for Frontline, David Fanning