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Kitchen Table Debate: Families Manage to Balance Budgets, Government Fails to Do the Same

The challenging economic climate has Washington pointing to the kitchen table for guidance -- families across the country are struggling to balance their budgets while the federal government plays a high-stakes game of political chicken, racking up huge debt in the process.

"What we need to do is to do our jobs, and we have to do it the same way a family would do it," President Obama said at a news conference last Friday.

"A family, if they get over-extended and their credit card it too high, they don't just stop paying their bills," he said.

On that point, Republicans agree.

"We can demonstrate that we are getting things under control and that the people who put us here can gain some confidence that we're going to begin to live like they do, around their kitchen tables and in their businesses," said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., on the very same day.

The image of a family sitting around the table and making the hard decisions to balance a tight budget has become the subject of powerful and popular rhetoric among both parties who use it to lash out and blame each other for the government's failure to pay its bills without going into seemingly endless debt.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American family of four brings in a pre-tax income of $85,436 and pays out expenditures of roughly $65,500. That includes $22,193 in housing, $10,707 in transportation, $8,730 in food, $7,680 in insurance and pensions, $3,375 in entertainment and $3,300 towards health care. As far as vacations, families spend around $6,500 a year, with most of that ending up as debt.

A typical family of two to three carries a total debt of over $75,000, says Federal Reserve data. Most of that is related to home ownership. About $3,300 is in credit card debt. Taking all of this information into account in addition to the BLS data, that family's overall debt is about 89 percent of its yearly income.

By comparison, the federal government's debt in fiscal year 2011 is 162 percent of its revenue Unlike families, it has thrown balancing its budget to the wayside (something not required by law), leaving Obama with a much different picture on his desk.

The federal government is projected to take in $2.23 trillion in revenues in fiscal 2011, which ends Sept. 30, but the outlays, or bills payable, add up to about $3.7 trillion, leaving a deficit of about $1.4 trillion dollars this year alone.

In addition to the bills that must be paid out, the interest on the existing debt comes in at a hefty $213 billion. But that's peanuts compared to the nations' entitlement programs. The bill for Social Security is a whopping $727 billion. Medicare costs $563 billion. And Medicaid racks up $275 billion.

There are plenty of additional domestic responsibilities as well, including the Defense Department tab of $660 billion.

In the end, a major difference between the average American family and their government is the ability to borrow. While creditors won't lend money to a family whose financial house is a mess, the U.S. government continues to find lenders eager to help, at least for now.

"We are the most popular borrower in the world," said Jay Powell of the Bipartisan Policy Center. "The world is willing to lend us all the money we need. Unfortunately, really, that allows us to run this big deficit.”

"We have the ability to be irresponsible and we wind up being irresponsible," Powell said.

While experts agree the U.S. government can't put off fiscal responsibility forever, many also worry that partisan politics is getting in the way of a solution as the deadline to raise the debt ceiling and prevent the country defaulting on its loan approaches.

"It's like a game of chicken," said Ron Haskins, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. "I always think of it as two cars coming toward each other in the teenage movies ... who is going to veer off at the last minute?

“But it does not always occur that one or the other veers off, or they try to veer off too late and then you have a huge crash, and that's a very realistic scenario here."

Fox News' Bryan Murphy contributed to this report.