Deficit hawks like to say that reckless government spending is mortgaging our children’s future. Rarely do they capture this as vividly as Republican Rep. Kristi Noem of South Dakota.

Noem sent a lighthearted tweet Tuesday about an unphotogenic moment shared between President Obama and a baby that was retweeted more than 100 times.

As the superimposed text explains, the individual share of the U.S.'s $17.6 trillion national debt is slightly less than $55,300, and both figures are expected to grow. The 2014 annual deficit is expected to clock in at $492 billion.

The good news: $492 billion is much smaller than the record $1.4 trillion deficit in 2009, a jaw-dropping amount that was the perfect storm of shrinking tax revenues combined with expensive wars and bailouts. In fact, a $492 billion deficit would be below average as a share of the economy than deficits over the period 1974 to 2013.

Now the bad news: The Congressional Budget Office projects that deficits will increase again starting in 2015, reaching the ominous $1 trillion-per-year mark in 2022 -- and then staying there. The CBO blames an “aging population, rising health care costs, an expansion of federal subsidies for health insurance and growing interest payments on federal debt” for the rise.

Rep. Kristi Noem (Photo: AP)
Even worse news: As others have noted, the $17 trillion figure does not adequately capture the extent of our penury. The government's unfunded liabilities -- that is, the amount it has promised to pay in the future, but will not have the revenue to cover -- is in the tens of trillions.

And, as the Hudson Institute's Chris DeMuth points out, most of this debt will be accrued to fund entitlement program transfers, not public-good projects, which means it will have a low economic return on investment.

In other words, things are grim. With apologies to the baby, we laugh so we don’t cry.