The Greeneville Sun: Think You Understand U.S. Debt? Try Senator Alexander's Challenge

Posted on June 4, 2011

The national debt, Medicare and the federal budget are common topics of interest among the American people, a fact which also means that they are talked about and debated with a regularity that makes them susceptible to rumors and conjecture.

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., wants to challenge political thinkers -- and everyone else -- with a test to see how much they really know about these topics.

During his noon address to the Greene County Republican Women on Wednesday, Alexander presented attendees with a worksheet of 16 multiple-choice and true-and-false questions, asking them to mark their answers.

Then, at the beginning of his address, he announced the correct answers.

"I believe the American people would allow Congress to [institute] difficult choices and make difficult decisions regarding all parts of the budget if all Americans understood the answers to the 16 questions we just went through," Tennessee's senior senator said after reviewing the questions and answers with the group.

No one in the audience claimed 12 or more correct answers.


In Alexander's words, "Let's see how much you know:"

Answers are at the bottom of this article.

1. Which of the following will the federal government spend the most on in the 2012 U.S. federal budget?

A: Defense

B: Healthcare (Medicare/Medicaid)

C: Interest on the public debt

D: Foreign aid

E: Social Security

F: Unemployment compensation

G: Earmarks and pork barrel spending

H: Welfare

2. "Gross Domestic Product" (GDP) is an economic term that measures the size of America's economy in dollars. As you may know, the United States carries a national debt. By the end of 2012, the total federal debt is projected to be approximately ______ % of the U.S. GDP in 2012?

A: 50% of GDP

B: 66% of GDP

C: 75% of GDP

D: 90% of GDP

E: 100% of GDP

3. In 2010, the U.S. government borrowed about ______ of every dollar it spent?

A: 1 cent

B: 10 cents

C: 25 cents

D: 33 cents

E: 40 cents

4. In 2010, what was the total amount of the federal deficit?

A: $0

B: $0.5 trillion

C: $1.0 trillion

D: $1.5 trillion

E: $2.0 trillion

5. According to the White House Office of Management and Budget, waste, fraud and abuse accounted approximately for how much of the 2009 federal budget, which totaled $3.1 trillion?

A: $100 billion

B: $250 billion

C: $500 billion

D: $750 billion

E: $1 trillion

6. Eliminating all of the waste, fraud, and abuse reported by the White House Office of Management and Budget would cut what percentage of the $1.5 trillion deficit?

A: 7% of the deficit

B: 17% of the deficit

C: 27% of the deficit

D: 37% of the deficit

E: 47% of the deficit

7. If we were to cut all earmarks and pork barrel spending from the budget, how much would it save? About _______?

A: $17 billion

B: $57 billion

C: $107 billion

D: $207 billion

E: $507 billion

8. True or false: If we rolled back Bush tax cuts for ALL Americans, we could balance the budget.

A: True

B: False

9. The top 1% of all wage earners in America pay about _____ of all taxes collected by the federal government?

A: 18% of taxes

B: 28% of taxes

C: 38% of taxes

D: 48% of taxes

E: 58% of taxes

10. The top 10% of all wage earners in America pay about _______ of all taxes collected by the federal government?

A: 50% of taxes

B: 60% of taxes

C: 70% of taxes

D: 80% of taxes

E: 90% of taxes

11. What percentage of Americans currently pay no personal income tax?

A: 7% of Americans

B: 17% of Americans

C: 27% of Americans

D: 37% of Americans

E: 47% of Americans


12. In 1965, when Medicare was created, which of the following was the average life expectancy for an American, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control?

A: 60

B: 63

C: 65

D: 70

E: 75

F: 79

13. And now, today in 2011, what is the average life expectancy for an American, according to the U.S. Census Bureau?

A: 63

B: 65

C: 70

D: 75

E: 79

F: 82

14. According to the American Medical Association, nearly _________% of primary care physicians already limit the Medicare patients in their practice?

A: 5%

B: 10%

C: 20%

D: 25%

E: 31%

15. In 1940, there were 159 workers for each Social Security beneficiary. As of 2009, there are ________ workers for [each] Social Security beneficiary?

A: 3

B: 6

C: 9

D: 12

E: 15

16. True or false: President Obama's budget, by the White House's own projections, will accumulate more debt by 2020 than every president in American history -- from President Washington through President Bush -- combined.

A: True

B: False

The answers that Alexander gave are as follows: 1. (B) 2. (E) 3. (E) 4. (D) 5. (A) 6. (A) 7. (A) 8. (B) 9. (C) 10. (C) 11. (E) 12. (D) 13. (E) 14. (E) 15. (A) 16. (A)

The Greene County Republican Women was the first audience Alexander has challenged with this test.