Confronting the federal deficit starts with grasping just how colossal that number actually is. So, what would $1 trillion get you?

The figure is almost incomprehensible: $1,000,000,000,000. One trillion dollars. That’s a dozen zeros.

The Congressional Budget Office reports that during the first nine months of fiscal 2010 — which ends September 30 — the federal government spent $1 trillion more than it took in. That’s another $1 trillion added to a total national debt that stood at just over $13 trillion as of the Fourth of July. (On the bright side, the trillion-dollar nine-month deficit was about $80 billion less red ink than flowed during the same period last year.)

Not so long ago, the idea of a “trillion” anything was so farfetched that it evoked a comic response similar to what the use of the word “gazillion” does today. The 1960s More >