Our Democracy Un-Spun! #8 – Statistical Hot Spots & The Debates

Courtesy www.american.edu/media/news/20100907_2010_Primaries_Voter_Turnout.cfm/
1st Lt. Meegan Courtesy U.S. Dept. of Defense Wind turbines at a wind farm Housing construction Courtesy Census.gov Corner of a Social Security Card - Courtesy good-legal-advice.com

In 1776, some of the founding fathers borrowed money from France and the Netherlands to help fund the American Revolution. We owed $43 million by January 1, 1783. Congress voted to raise taxes, as well as to assume some public debt.

In 1790, with a debt estimated at $77.1 million, interest-bearing bonds were issued and the government established its good credit. Alexander Hamilton became our first Secretary of the Treasury. He helped design the strong centralized funding of the United States, including tariffs and taxes. The Louisiana Purchase cost $15 million, at just 4 cents per acre, but it derailed efforts to pay down the debt at that time. Later, the country borrowed funds to finance the War of 1812, raising the debt from $45.2 million on January 1, 1812, to $119.2 million as of September 30, 1815. The Civil War, the World Wars, the Cold War and policies of recent administrations have all influenced the build up of the national debt.

The Budget and the National Debt

Since 1983, the National Priorities Project has worked to make the national budget both transparent and accessible so that the public can understand and participate in how our tax dollars are spent. Their Federal Budget 101 gives you the basics about where the money comes from and where it goes. Their analysis section includes a Voter's Guide for 2012. Use their Federal Priorities Database to search for spending on food stamps, Head Start, military personnel, and more at a state or a county level. National Priorities Project also provides the Cost of War website, with counters tallying direct and indirect dollar costs of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq nationally, or at a state or local level.

TreasuryDirect for Kids helps to make our national budget and spending make sense.

The Debt to the Penny shows today's debt, and who holds it. Specify a date in history (anytime since 1790!), or enter a range of dates to see how the debt has changed over time and under different presidents.

The Economy, Jobs and Employment

The Census Bureau is continually collecting a variety of economic data. They run an Economic Census every five years. They also provide national Economic Indicators monthly and quarterly.

Track Recovery Act spending at Recovery.gov. You can search for projects by zip code, or click by state to find projects and recipients of funding.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics provides current and in-depth data and reports for everything that has to do with jobs. The Consumer Price Index is updated monthly. You can see how it changed over time, in cities in the west, or define your own search.

Social Security

Social Security is a huge, but unique portion of our national budget. It is taken directly from our payroll taxes, and designated as a trust fund for paying elderly, disabled and spouses of deceased workers. Numbers of recipients as of August, 2012, are tallied here. There is a great deal of confusion and misinformation about the long-term viability of Social Security, so I'll save that for another time.


The Tax Policy Center is a rich source of tax data, formatted to be useful for understanding issues of this election cycle. Tax policy is complicated, but the Tax Topics and Tax Facts sections are easy to use. There is a Briefing Book for those who want to understand more, and recent articles from a variety of perspectives on how to restructure our tax code.

Voting Records

Want to know what happened to some legislation as it moved through the Congress? Want to know how your representative voted on a particular bill? GovTrack.us lets you search by Senator or Representative, by Committees, by Bills and Resolutions, and by Voting Records. Maplight tracks the money that politicians receive and their votes in Congress. Votes that are tallied in the Senate and the House are compiled at these sites. Project Vote Smart provides information on politicians, bills, and on issues, including how representatives voted.

Great General Resources

Statistical Abstract 2012 is a great resource for data on health care, energy, poverty and wealth and much, much more. It provides tables such as the U.S. Government Foreign Grants & Credits by Country, 2000 - 2010, and the balance of trade for imports and exports as shown here. Federal Agency Statistical Reports are linked on this site, too.

The Denver Public Library is a Selective Federal Depository Library. We have extensive collections of federal documents dating back to the late 1700s, and our Reference Services staff are skilled in locating just what you need. We have transcripts of hearings in the House and the Senate, reports from the various Departments and Agencies, and a full run of the Congressional Record. Students can make good use of these primary documents, but they are useful for anyone seeking federal government information. We can also help with your search of the Congressional Universe database, FedStats, and the Catalog of U.S. Government Publications.

The Debates

The League of Women Voters Debate Watching 101

The Wall Street Journal First Debate: A Viewer's Guide

C-SPAN Debates, in case you miss it live.

You'll find more essentials for Elections here. And if you have questions or want assistance finding reliable information on this or any topic, contact our Reference Services Department on Level 3 of the Central Library, 720-865-1363 or by email.


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