From the New York Times:
If you've lent even one ear to the administration's recent comments on Social Security, you have no doubt heard President Bush and his aides asserting that a $10 trillion shortfall threatens the retirement system - and the economy itself. That $10 trillion hole is the basis of the president's claim last month that "the [Social Security] crisis is now." It's also the basis of the administration's claim that the cost of doing nothing to reform the system would be far greater than the cost of acting now.
Well, the $10 trillion figure is the closest you can get to pulling a number out of the air. Make that the ether. Starting last year, as the groundwork was being set for the emerging debate, the Social Security trustees took the liberty of projecting the system's solvency over infinity, rather than sticking to the traditional 75-year time horizon. That world-without-end assumption generates the scary $10 trillion estimate, and with it, Mr. Bush's putative rationale for dismantling Social Security in favor of a system centered on private savings accounts. The American Academy of Actuaries, the profession's premier trade association, objected to the change. In a letter to the trustees, the actuaries wrote that infinite projections provide "little if any useful information about the program's long-range finances and indeed are likely to mislead any [nonexpert] into believing that the program is in far worse financial condition than is actually indicated."
Full article: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/01/03/opinion/03mon1.html?th
From Talking Points Memo:
After 1980 we started borrowing money big-time to finance our deficits -- in large part because of tax cuts on high-income earners. However you want to slice it, we started spending substantially more than we were taking in in tax revenue.
So where'd we borrow the money?
This is from memory, so I may have the numbers a bit off. But I believe about $4 trillion of that debt was borrowed on the open market -- individual Americans have them in their investment portfolios, or pension funds hold them, or the Chinese, Japanese and the Saudis and others have them in bonds.
But about $3 trillion of those dollars we needed to fund the 1980s and 1990s deficits we managed to borrow closer to home. We borrowed it from the Social Security (and a few other government) trust fund(s).