March is National Black Hole Awareness Month, a perfect time to match science with spending. While scientists continue to identify black holes in the far reaches of space, the closest and most deadly vortex is the nation’s $14.3 trillion national debt. Indeed, there are striking similarities between the astronomical black holes and the fiscal abyss facing the United States.
Black holes are the remnants of very large, older stars that have grown so immense that they can no longer resist their own gravitational pull; they run out of fuel, collapse on themselves, and pull in and crush all matter and energy around them. The federal budget is bloated, spending is out of control, and the country is being fueled by trillions of borrowed dollars. The gross national debt is now so large that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that it will exceed the gross domestic product for each of the next 10 years, which could eventually lead to the economy’s collapse.
The intense gravitational pull of black holes does not allow any light to escape, so they are identifiable to astronomers only as dense, dark expanses in the universe, exerting an intractable pull on nearby celestial objects. Gross interest on the national debt is already the fourth largest item in the budget; CBO estimates that by 2020, interest on the debt will be the second largest item in the budget, only 4 percent less than Social Security. No entity can survive for very long when it is paying more than $1.1 trillion in interest on its debt; those payments could force all other federal programs to shrink in size until they disappear.
Objects approaching black holes reach a point of no return, an “event horizon,” past which the black hole’s massive gravitational undertow makes destruction inevitable. As long as the object manages to hover outside the event horizon, it has a chance to survive, but the closer it gets, the more stretched the victim feels, and more intense energy must be expended in the effort to escape. President Obama’s current budget projections envision deficits and an increasing debt as far the Hubble Telescope can see. To date, he has agreed to sign two continuing resolutions for fiscal year 2011 that cut $10 billion, or three-tenths of one percent of the $3.7 trillion budget. The House has passed a bill that cuts about 2 percent of the budget; Senate Democrats are claiming that’s too much; and the president has not weighed in with any number at all. The cosmic “event horizon” may be a mysterious tipping point, but the fiscal one can be seen clearly with the naked eye as Washington dithers over relatively small cuts in the next continuing resolution.
The center of a black hole, the “singularity,” is the point when the laws of physics break down. As the nation approaches its debt limit, rational earthling behavior would dictate that lawmakers put the brakes on their outrageous spending habits, reverse course, and institute stable budget rules. After all, some scientists speculate that once down a black hole, the only possible chance of survival would be finding a wormhole that would allow the victim to emerge into a separate, maybe parallel universe. Unfortunately, many lawmakers are still “lost in space,” operating under the old space-time rules of borrow-and-spend without regard to the rapidly approaching fiscal black hole.
Leslie Paige is the vice president of communicataions for Citizens Against Government Waste.