It seems unlikely that many people, even among the relatively well-educated readers of the New York Times and Washington Post, have much clue as to how much money is at stake in the battle over the debt ceiling. As some points of reference, the government is projected to spend roughly $46 trillion over the next decade. This means that $2.2 trillion in cuts would be around 4.8 percent of projected spending.

However, the impact is likely to be much larger on specific portions of the budget. If Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are left off the table, and most of the cuts come from the discretionary portion of the budget (which includes most government investment in infrastructure, education and research), then $2.2 trillion in cuts would come to 15.2 percent of projected spending. There is also the question of the division of the cuts between domestic discretionary spending and military spending. In the extreme case where all the cuts came from the domestic side of the budget, the cuts would be 32.8 percent of projected spending.

Finally, it is worth asking how large these proposed cuts are relative to the size of the economy. GDP is projected to be almost $200 trillion over the next decade. This means that if the government could raise taxes by an amount equal to 1.1 percent of projected income it would raise enough money to the spending cuts being debated by Congress.