The U.S. national debt is just a few months away from exceeding $20 trillion – an astronomical sum of such epic proportions that it’s difficult to fathom. Trying to understand the scale of even a fraction of it can boggle the mind. For example, if you were to spend $1 million every day since Jesus was born, you’d still be about $2.5 billion short of spending $1 trillion, and another $19 trillion short of our national debt today. And if contemplating the sheer size of the debt isn’t overwhelming – and terrifying – enough, consider the meteoric speed at which it is increasing: every second of every day, the federal governments spends roughly $27,500 more than it takes in.

How is this possible?

Politicians like to pin the blame on the federal policies and programs that they dislike the most. Those who believe the U.S. military should be leaner and less aggressive abroad say that an inflated defense budget is the cause of our ballooning debt. Those who think that our social safety net programs are counterproductive and wasteful blame our fiscal woes on the welfare state. And so forth.

But this argument misses the forest for the trees. Yes, the budget of virtually every federal department needs to be overhauled. And yes, the spending for countless federal programs needs to be curtailed – if not eliminated altogether. But the real source of our out-of-control national debt isn’t one agency or program or political party – it’s a self-serving political culture in Washington that has been built by politicians of both parties, over the course of decades, who habitually place their short-term career prospects over the long-term interests of the nation.

A case in point is the 21st Century Cures Act, which the House recently passed and the Senate will consider next week.

Those who support the bill proudly claim that it reduces government spending by $6 billion, which is, at best, only a half-truth. The Cures Act does save $6 billion, but it also paves the way for those so-called “savings” to be spent in upcoming years through an appropriations process – and here’s the kicker – that is not subject to the budget caps established in the Budget Control Act.

Proponents of the Cures Act might ask what good just $6 billion in savings would do when the national debt is about to reach $20 trillion, but of course that’s exactly the kind of question that got us into this mess in first place.