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Deficit Reduction By the Numbers: How Much Is $4 Trillion?

  • statue-of-liberty-trillions

    A graphic showing what the Statue of Liberty would look like standing next to $15 trillion (WTFNOWAY.COM)

  • debt_clock_071311.jpg

    An elderly man walks past the National Debt Clock in midtown Manhattan July 13. (Reuters)

Looking at the nation's $14 trillion-plus debt, it's natural to assume lawmakers have lost sight of what those numbers mean. 

The federal budget has included trillion-dollar deficits for the last three years, and despite officials trying to define the corrosive problem in a language people can comprehend, the negotiations aren't exactly kitchen-table talks about June's credit-card statement. 

Instead of cutting back on the grocery bill or telling the kids not to text so much, lawmakers are talking about cutting hundreds of billions at a time -- and they still can't seem to arrive at the golden number of $4 trillion that credit ratings agencies say is the evidence of a course correction to the U.S. spending addiction. 

The credit rating agencies have repeatedly threatened to downgrade the USA's stellar risk status, and talk of $2.7 trillion or $3 trillion in savings over the next 10 years -- tied to some future commission or congressional vote -- has done little to assuage them. One Standard & Poor's official said Thursday that if Congress can cut $4 trillion from the deficit over the next decade, that would mark a "good down payment." 

But what the heck is $4 trillion? 

Here are a few examples that might help put that number in perspective: 

-- Based on government estimates, $4 trillion is enough to cover the cost of the decade-long war in Afghanistan and the one nearly that long in Iraq three times over, with money to spare. 

-- Take what ExxonMobil made in 2010 -- not just their profit, but their total revenue. Now multiply that by 10. That's $4 trillion. 

-- On the other end of the pump, the average driver is now spending about $3.70 on a gallon of regular gas -- $4 trillion is enough to buy 1.1 trillion gallons. Since the U.S. consumes about 361 million gallons of gas a day, $4 trillion can buy all of America's gas for eight years.

-- $4 trillion is enough money cover 55 million Social Security recipients for five-and-a-half years. 

-- $4 trillion can buy 22,857 of the most expensive home on the market in the United States -- a $175 million ranch in Wyoming. 

-- If luxury rides are a better option, $4 trillion would buy 47 million high-end, tricked-out Cadillac Escalades. 

-- Hear about the guy who went on "Antiques Roadshow" and found out his Chinese tea cups were worth $1 million? That was nice. $4 trillion could buy his collection 4 million times. 

-- There's not much out there that's actually $4 trillion. But a new report Thursday did find something roughly equivalent -- the cost of America's health care tab come 2020.

Click here for another perspective on what trillions of dollars look like

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