Elementary school kids always have fun making up hyperbolic, fictitious names for gigantic numbers that bewilder them.

A zillion. A gajillion. A kabillion.

Maybe those kids aren’t being histrionic.

Those numbers won’t sound so outlandish if the federal debt keeps exploding at its current rate and no one reigns in entitlement spending.

In the next week, anyone who pays any attention to American government is going to get a crash-course in just how much Washington spends, how deep the U.S. is in the hole, how creative government accounting is and how stark the future could look.

It begins with a potential showdown between President Obama and Congressional Democrats pitted against conservative Republicans. Many of these GOP lawmakers just arrived in Washington with marching orders from the heartland to slice and dice spending faster than the sous chef on a Ginsu knife commercial. The main event comes Tuesday night as President Obama delivers his State of the Union message and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) delivers the official Republican response.

A gifted orator, Mr. Obama enjoys the advantage of the most powerful weapon in the president’s toolbox: the bully pulpit before a Joint Session of Congress, broadcast live, coast-to-coast.

Republicans counter President Obama with Ryan, a green eyeshade Jedi Master who understands the intricacies of federal spending, the budget and tax policy better than almost anyone on Capitol Hill.

This is going to get ugly. And if the public really wants Washington to balance the books, it could prove to be very painful.

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