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Obama inherited a fiscal disaster. Now what?

Without swift action, gargantuan debts could soon destroy Uncle Sam's credit rating.

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Few Americans have any idea how bad the financial problems are that President Obama inherited from the Bush administration. Never mind the housing bubble, the bank meltdown, or the bailout scandals – I am talking about the failure of federal government to honestly account either for its own actions or for America's most important programs: Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid.

George W. Bush took office after three years of budget surpluses under President Bill Clinton. Eight years later, Obama walked into the Oval Office to find – gift-wrapped with a bow, as he recently joked – almost $11 trillion in Treasury debt, and deficits of more than $1 trillion a year for the foreseeable future. That's a $30,000 burden on every man, woman, and child in America, on top of the taxes they are already paying. Under better management, that number could have been zero.

If this weren't bad enough, President Bush's financial legacy is marred by other fundamental problems. Bush's team borrowed more than $1 trillion from the Social Security "trust fund" and seemed to spend it on everything Social Security. Like Blanche DuBois in Tennessee Williams's "Streetcar Named Desire," Social Security now depends on the kindness of strangers – namely, future taxpayers and foreign lenders.

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