Okay, let's get the obvious out of the way. $17 trillion is a huge number. It's a number that scares people. Now imagine you step on a scale, and you weigh 325 lbs. That might be scary. However, you happen to be 6'5 and you are a professional football player. In that context, the weight is not scary at all. Context is king. In that light, 17 trillion dollars is not as big a number as it might seem.
Our debt, which should not be confused with the deficit, is currently about 83% of our Gross Domestic Product. The high water mark after World War II was 125%. We managed to draw that down, and we can draw this down as well. Our annual budget deficit, which adds to the debt has dropped over the past 4 fiscal years from 1.3 trillion dollars to roughly 680 billion dollars- basically the 50% reduction that President Obama promised.
More reduction below the fold.
The Right talks a good game about how our debt harms the economy. They never actually propose doing anything about it. In the simplest of terms, there are exactly two ways to reduce debt: reduce spending or increase revenues. There is one way to reduce spending, which is to make cuts. There are two ways to increase revenues, raise taxes and grow the economy.
Republicans talk about growing the economy. Specifically, they use the phrase "our pro-growth agenda." However, their so-called pro-growth agenda is just more tax cuts. Tax cuts can be a stimulus, but it is not a very efficient stimulus, and one thing that it does is increase short term debt. The one thing that Republicans are consistent about is that our debt is and impediment to job growth. Therefore, the key to their pro-growth agenda will increase the greatest impediment to growth according to them.
Just as there are only two ways to reduce debt, there is only one way to grow the economy. Get more money in it. There are three ways to do that. Cut taxes, cut interest rates, and increase government spending. Taxes are at historic lows. Interest rates are near zero. Therefore increasing government spending is the only viable option to spur economic activity.
In the 1990's, President Clinton addressed the problem of a week economy by increasing spending, and he off-set the debt raising effects by increasing taxes on incomes over $100,000. Not a single Republican voted for it. It led to average job growth of 225,000 per month for 8 years! It led to three years of government surplus.
We know that increasing government spending helps the economy grow because we've done it in every recession and it has worked. We know that we can raise the top marginal tax rates without wrecking the economy because we did it. This is what we call evidence.
If you are a true deficit hawk, you should promote policies that have demonstrably reduced the deficit; higher taxes on those who can afford it, and increased government spending. When the left says the proof is in the pudding, they can back it up with actual pudding. The right can't do the same.