It used to be the government's budget picture was measured in billions of dollars. No longer. Trillions, that's the yardstick of the 21st century.
In 1981, the trillion dollar figure was such a novelty that President Ronald Reagan declared it incomprehensible. "If you had a stack of thousand-dollar bills in your hand only 4 inches high, you'd be a millionaire," the president said then. "A trillion dollars would be a stack of thousand-dollar bills 67 miles high.
Now consider the mileage in this:
_ Today, the government faces nearly a $1.6 trillion deficit in the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30, according to government budget officials.
_ It faces a cumulative 10-year deficit of about $9 trillion. That's $30,000 for each man, woman and child in the United States.
_ It's publicly held debt is projected by the White House budget office to total a whopping $17.5 trillion by 2019 — a figure so big it is three-quarters of the nation's entire economy — and big enough that it would send Reagan's stack of thousand-dollar bills into satellite orbit.
The Congressional Budget Office and the White House Office of Management and Budget had some other numbers to ponder:
_ The unemployment rate will peak in coming months at 10 percent, but will begin to drop in 2010, according to the White House. CBO says it will be slightly worse, averaging 10 percent for all of 2010.
_ The recession will cause the economy to contract 2.8 percent this year, the White House said, more than doubling its prediction from earlier this year. Both government agencies expect the economy to grow next year by 1.7-2 percent and continue expanding in 2011 at a 3.5 percent clip.