It's a simple, homely analogy that everybody understands. Alas, it's also extremely misleading. U.S. government macroeconomics bears almost no relationship to your family budget. Unlike your family, see, the government lives forever. It needn't ever close the books on a debt it owes largely to itself anyway, as Social Security obligations, interest on government bonds, etc.
The federal government also raises taxes as necessary, manages the level of inflation, regulates banks and, yes, prints money. So no, your grandchildren aren't going to get stuck with the bill. They're going to pass it on to their grandchildren, and so on. It's not an existential threat, it's a bookkeeping convention.
But it's almost impossible to seriously discuss such issues in a country where 90 percent of the citizenry either don't know or aggressively refuse to understand simple budgetary arithmetic.
If it were possible, though, here's one basic question Americans should ponder: If it's not Obama's profligate spending keeping the U.S. economy in low gear, could it be government layoffs and lack of public investment?
Gene Lyons is a columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.