Amid latest European bailout, warning signs in US debt figures

Colorado Treasurer Walker Stapleton weighs in


Spain is the latest European country to enter the tough terms of a bailout, agreeing to slash spending and jack up taxes in exchange for the financial lifeline. 

Think that kind of fiscal emergency couldn't happen here? 

While debt and deficits have fallen off Washington's radar screen a bit, in favor of debate over the federal health care law and other issues, U.S. finances remain alarmingly out of balance. And by some measures, it's worse than it is across the pond. 

Consider this: Per capita debt in the United States is higher than in all -- or at least some, depending on how it's calculated -- the European nations that have accepted bailouts to date. 

Based on official 2010 International Monetary Fund data released earlier this year, the U.S. debt per capita is $46,208. 

Here's the same figure for the four European countries that have accepted bailouts. 

Ireland: $41,906 

Greece: $38,159 

Portugal: $19,686 

Spain: $18,162 

So why hasn't the United States gone under? 

Fortunately for the U.S., the economy is much bigger than the corresponding economies in Europe. And people are still buying U.S. debt, helping keep U.S. interest rates far lower than they are in, say, Greece. 

But the figures help underscore the risky direction American finances are headed. The latest monthly report shows the federal budget deficit grew almost $60 billion in June, putting it on course to top $1 trillion for the fourth year in a row. 

Republicans are starting to bring back concerns about the U.S. debt and deficits as the presidential campaign heats up. Senate Republicans posted a chart online which includes figures similar to the ones above. And GOP super PAC Crossroads GPS is launching new TV ads going after Obama over the debt. 

The above figures factor in what are known as "intra-governmental holdings" -- meaning debt owed to other government programs like Social Security and Medicare. It also factors in all federal, state and local debt. 

If "intra-governmental holdings" are excluded, the U.S. debt per capita falls to $34,285 -- and slips below Greece and Ireland, but above that of Portugal and Spain. 

Though the IMF has not published 2011 debt figures, stats compiled from other sources show the U.S. debt-per-capita stat continued to top that of bailed-out European countries last year.