The deficit for fiscal year 2010, which ended Sept. 30, came in at $1.3 trillion, the second highest ever, the all-time record being 2009's $1.4 trillion. And in the short-term it's not going to get better. The Obama administration forecasts the 2011 deficit will return to the $1.4 trillion level. Private forecasters say it won't be quite that bad, only $1.2 billion.
The voters, egged on by tea partiers and many other conservatives, are especially angry at President Obama, blaming his $814-billion stimulus and the $700-billion bailout of Wall Street and the auto companies. (There is growing evidence that the bailout not only worked but also staved off a severe depression. The cruel irony is that George W. Bush won't get the credit he deserves.)
So the next Congress will presumably include many newly minted lawmakers all fired up to do something about the deficit, if they're from the right by cutting government spending.
But meaningful cuts that will have a significant impact on the deficit are available primarily in those high-dollar areas where the government spends most of its money - defense, including veterans' benefits, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. That would take lawmakers with near-suicidal courage and we haven't seen a lot of that, no matter how tough they talk back home.
Many in Congress are counting on a bipartisan deficit reduction commission for a solution. It is due to report on Dec. 1, but the commission needs the support of 14 of its 18 members to bring a recommendation to a vote in Congress. Among the possible recommendations: ending tax expenditures - the mortgage interest deduction and other incentives - for deficit reductions of $1 trillion a year. But in reality, ending the mortgage interest deduction and other deductions would cause taxpayers to change their behaviors in order to avoid the new taxes, and cause severe economic disruption in the process.
The voters may be outraged over the deficits but they'll likely be even more outraged by what it takes to reduce them.