ABC News' Amy Bingham reports:
While lawmakers fight over how many trillions of dollars should be cut from the deficit, some Americans are taking debt reduction into their own hands, albeit with far fewer zeros.
So far this year, individuals have donated almost $2 million to a little-known Treasury fund to chip away miniscule pieces of the country’s crushing $14.3 trillion debt. That $2 million is about .0017 percent of the $2.1 billion the United States pays every day just on the interest of that debt.
“It’s a very, very, very, very tiny, tiny amount,” compared to entire amount of the debt, said Mckayla Braden, a spokeswoman for Bureau of Public Debt. “We’re borrowing billions every week. It’s just a tiny bit, a rounding error probably. But it means a lot to the people who are giving.”
Braden said that while donations most often come in the form of a personal check in a standard envelope, the bureau has received everything from a gold coin to nickels and dimes given by civics class students.
“More so it is just individuals who for some reason really feel they want to give more to their country,” Braden said.
But at an office that recently had to buy new calculators because the debt now has too many zeros for the old ones, even a gold coin seems like pennies.
“When [the debt] went to the trillions, we had to get new calculators because we didn’t have ones that go over 10 trillion,” Braden said.
The debt-reduction fund was established by Congress in 1961 in order to accept a $20-million donation that Susan Vaughan Clayton, a wealthy Texan, left to the federal government in her will. The fund is now managed by the Bureau of Public Debt, a branch of the Treasury Department.
Ultimately, all the donations end up in the Treasury’s general fund out of which almost all government expenditures are paid.
Braden said in the 32 years she has worked for the bureau, she would guess there have been fewer than 100 donations of more than $200,000. She said most people send in checks or cash for about $20 or $30. The bureau sends a pre-form, thank you letter to each donor who supplies a return address.
The idea of going above and beyond paying taxes to help the federal government’s financial woes did not sit well with some of the tourists outside the White House today.
Paul Baker of Elizabeth, Colo., said he absolutely would not consider donating until lawmakers “figure out how to quit spending our money like drunken sailors.”
Christy Roberts of Houston said she is already doing her part by paying taxes.
“I don’t feel that’s a way that I would show my own patriotism but if you feel like it’s going to do some good, and it’s going to be used wisely by the bureaucrats in Washington, then donate away,” she said.
But Jenice Bass of Raleigh, N.C., said if she could afford it, she would consider donating, and if more people knew about the debt-donation website, hey would probably give money as well.
“It would help get all of us out of trouble and the money problems that we’re all having,” she said. “Those of us that can afford to give should be able to give.”
Ginny Amuneson of Boise, Idaho, said she would like to see congress members pitching in to help pay for the debt.
“Everybody has to do their part. Everybody,” she said. “It’d be nice to see the congressmen and a few of them give up some of theirs, too.”
But some lawmakers, such as Rep. Timothy Walz, D-Minn., are already pitching in to help lower deficits. When Walz took office in 2007, he decided not to accept a higher salary than his predecessor had, which meant the first-term congressman gave back about $6,600 to the government between January and September 2010 alone.
"It's a token measure, but it's something I can do," Walz told ABC’s Maya Srikrishnan in December.