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There are other variables that complicate the picture on a similar scale. The federal government is on the hook for $5 trillion of debt that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac underwrote. The two companies themselves hold only a third of that debt, Kogan said, so it's unclear what the taxpayer's ultimate liability will be there.
Also unclear is how the Wall Street bailout money is being spent. The Treasury has been reluctant to monitor how banks are using TARP funds, and the Fed has refused to name the recipients of its loans, arguing that naming names would undermine the health of the companies in question.
"It's a lot of money going out the door, with basically no public knowledge of it whatsoever," said Dean Baker, a co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington.
About $600 billion of the Fed's $1.3 trillion plan to buy commercial paper has been spent, Baker said. But the Fed won't say who has received that cash.
"People are making and losing fortunes depending on whether the Fed will buy their commercial paper," Baker said. "We should know what they're doing."
Iraq and Afghanistan: $3 trillion
The searches for Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq have morphed into occupations. So far, the U.S. has spent around $860 billion on both, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
But Harvard University professor Linda Bilmes and Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz of Columbia University say the agency is underestimating the tab. In their book, "The Three Trillion Dollar War" they claim Iraq will be far costlier.
Modern technology and medicine have kept U.S. deaths in these conflicts low, compared with previous wars, but tens of thousands of wounded soldiers will require taxpayer-supplied health care for years, said Bilmes, who served as an assistant secretary of commerce in the Clinton administration. Factoring in those benefits, replacement of worn-out hardware and other hidden bills, Bilmes and Stiglitz believe the real price for Iraq is $3 trillion.
That money hasn't been reinvested in the U.S. economy as mush as possibly expected, partly because of outsourcing by U.S. companies, Bilmes said. One example is construction company KBR, which used shell companies in the Cayman Islands to avoid payroll taxes.
"A dollar that is spent on a road is a dollar which has a multiplier," Bilmes said. "You have better roads. Whereas a dollar spent on a Malaysian contractor to do laundry doesn't help the U.S."
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Tax cuts and deficit spending: $2 trillion
In 2001 and 2003, Bush signed legislation that cut taxes, much to the benefit of the affluent. The first cut was designed to help the economy after the Internet bubble collapsed. The second was to boost growth after the 2001 recession ended.
Kogan estimated the tax cuts have cost the Treasury $1.7 trillion in revenue to date. Of course, that may not be one bit disturbing to the taxpayers who've watched their tax bills go down. The only problem is, the cuts have been critical in opening up the gargantuan budget gap that Obama will face.
Because Bush did not reduce spending, Washington has paid about $265 billion in interest on loans to cover the lost revenue. So the $1.7 trillion in tax cuts really cost around $2 trillion.
Meanwhile, Bush increased deficit spending, incurring more debt service. Bush's expansion of Medicare drug benefits for the elderly, for example, cost around $130 billion, of which $10 billion was debt service between 2006 and 2008, said Kogan, of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
"If some of this spending had been paid for by tax increases, then there wouldn't have been interest costs," he said. "But none of it was. We had tax cuts and spending increases."
In an e-mail, Treasury Department spokeswoman Brookly McLaughlin said Bush's tax cuts had helped the economy by allowing people to keep more of their wages and other earnings, increasing incentives to work, save and invest.
McLaughlin also cited an Office of Management and Budget/Haver Analytics study that compared federal spending as a share of gross domestic product under Bush and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Under Bush, spending grew from 18.4% of GDP in fiscal 2000 to 20.7% in fiscal 2008, the study said. FDR increased spending from 6.3% in fiscal 1932 to 43.6% in fiscal 1944.
Of course, Roosevelt was dealing with a full-blown depression and war against Germany and Japan.
Hurricanes Katrina and Rita: $270 billion
When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005, New Orleans' levees gave way, and the city was inundated. Stories of survivors trapped in the Superdome and incompetence at the Federal Emergency Management Agency transformed the natural disaster into a national disgrace.
Katrina, along with Hurricane Rita soon after, cost about $270 billion, by some estimates. In Louisiana alone, officials said the hurricane destroyed $100 billion in property, shrank the state's economy by $80 billion and required $20 billion in local emergency relief.
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Those figures don't include damages in other states, including communities that absorbed refugees fleeing the city. They also don't count the continuing costs of rebuilding the Big Easy.
FEMA has given $50 billion to Gulf Coast states, a spokesman said. The Army Corps of Engineers is spending $14 billion to upgrade levees, according to the agency's Web site.
Meantime, the Louisiana Recovery Authority is spending $10 billion in recovery efforts that include homeowners retrofitting their houses, for example.
"People are adding storm shutters and roof tie-downs so that they can make their homes more resilient," said Christina Stephens, an agency spokeswoman. "We're encouraging them to mitigate future loss."
9/11: $260 billion
New York City lost about $95 billion because of the Sept. 11 attacks, according to a 2002 report by City Comptroller William Thompson Jr.
That price tag includes costs associated only with New York: $22 billion to replace the World Trade Center, $65 billion in lost economic activity in the three years after the attacks and $9 billion in the human potential that disappeared when the hijackers killed 2,819 people in Manhattan -- a calculation that illustrates why economics is called the dismal science. It does not include Washington's $22 billion in aid.
Outside New York, the tragedy cost plenty. Kogan estimated that Bush spent about $140 billion on related nonmilitary measures, such as the creation of the Department of Homeland Security.
The approximate total of $260 billion does not include the damage wrought and lives lost on 9/11 at the Pentagon or in Pennsylvania, or money spent on preparedness by state and local governments and private industry. It also doesn't include the continuing losses associated with the vacant World Trade Center site, which housed as much office space as downtown Atlanta.
In other words, we're still paying for 9/11.