National debt of the United States

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Under President Obama, the National debt has surpassed 103% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The Greek Debt Crisis of 2010 was precipitated when Greek debt reached 115% of GDP.[1]

The National Debt is the amount of money the United States Federal government owes various creditors due to deficit spending. As of March 31, 2015, the national debt had reached $18.2 trillion, or, if divided equally among each member of the U.S. population, $226,000 per family of four.[2]


Debt of the US - Analysis of last two presidencies

On January 20, 2001, the day of George W. Bush's inauguration into office, the national debt of the United States was 5.7 trillion dollars, and by the end of his run in office (January 19, 2009) it was at 10.6 trillion dollars.[2] Five years into Barack Obama's term, Obama had already outborrowed Bush's entire debt load during his 8-year term at about $7.0 trillion borrowed vs. $4.9 trillion, but comparing these figures masks an important distinction—slower economic growth.

The production of the U.S. economy is measured by its gross domestic product or GDP, and its increase (and during recessions its decrease) from year to year measures economic growth (or decline) in the form of goods and services produced. GDP figures generally become more accurate over the years as more precise accounting is employed. The latest GDP revisions to measurements for recent years are from 2014.

From April 1, 2001 to March 31, 2009, the economy produced $18.4 trillion over and above March 31, 2001 GDP levels which was its productive growth for that time period. Relative to that amount, the U.S. Government went $4.9 trillion into debt for U.S. Government consumption or redistribution (or rather "pre-distribution" since the money to this day hasn't been collected yet from taxes) or an amount equal to 27% of the entire productive growth of the U.S. for that time period.

From April 1, 2009 to March 31, 2015, the U.S. economy produced $9.8 trillion over and above March 31, 2009 GDP levels which was its productive growth for that time period. Relative to that amount, the U.S. Government went $7.5 trillion into debt for U.S. Government consumption or redistribution (again, "pre-distribution" because to this day not collected from taxes) or an amount equal to 77% of the entire productive growth of the U.S. for that time period. In other words, for the first six years of Obama's administration, every new dollar produced by the U.S. economy above the productive level at its beginning was matched by seventy-seven cents borrowed on behalf of the government (over and above all federal taxes collected during that time) and dedicated to government consumption or redistribution.

Some have made the remark that under high taxation, we are slaves to the government. If slavery is defined as having all the fruits of one's production seized, it is not true that a person is a slave to the government in America, but given these facts, it is hard to deny that under the first six years of the Obama administration our country's productive growth may figuratively be nearly one.

This comparative analysis, made to fit the time periods of the figures of the first paragraph of this section, is not without its rough edges. The percent of growth spent under Obama may be higher when the factor that much of Bush's spending in his last year in office ($0.6 trillion) took the form of a series of loans to mostly private companies, not new consumption or redistribution, that, taken together, was completely paid back to the government during Obama's administration.[3]

A second factor is that it was Obama who signed legislation for much of budgeted Fiscal Year 2009, when under normal circumstances it would have been all signed into law by Bush.

Debt per capita

The national debt per capita, which means what an individual's debt burden would be if each member of the U.S. population were assigned an equal share of the U.S. federal debt, as of March 31, 2015, was $56,500 (or $226,000 per family of four) assuming a U.S. population of about 321,000,000[4]. The new debt accrued in the single fiscal year 2014 was $3,400 per single member of the U.S. population or $13,500 per family of four, and the new debt accrued from April 1, 2009 to March 31, 2015 was $22,000 per each member of the U.S. population or $88,000 per family of four. See table below.

Debt to GDP ratio

Instead of measuring an absolute number, the debt to GDP ratio is the measurement of the national debt as a percentage of the gross domestic product. It is a measure of the debt in relation to the economy and of our capacity to carry and repay debt.[5] The US Debt to GDP ratio is getting larger, as the US economy's debt is growing faster than the GDP.[6] This has not always been the case: During the last 8 presidential administrations (pre-Obama), the US Debt to GDP ratio was reduced under Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton; but increased under Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and George W. Bush.

Debt ceiling

Main Article: Debt Ceiling

The debt ceiling is a limit imposed on the Treasury by Congress. The Treasury may not issue debt in excess of this amount to fund government operations. In February 2014, the debt ceiling was suspended altogether until March 2015, and was last raised on February 7, 2014 to $17.212 trillion, a nearly 5 trillion dollar increase in less than four and a half years in spite of attempts by conservative Congressmen to reduce spending.[7]

Raising the debt ceiling is not the same thing as going further into debt to spend more money, since spending is dictated by the Federal Budget or continuing resolutions, but it does allow the Federal Government to meet any new financial obligations up to the ceiling, if and when new spending arises, through accepting money from new debt-holders. It is not certain what would happen if the national debt reaches the debt ceiling without action by Congress. Liberal politicians and pundits, including Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, claim that government would default on its obligations, causing global financial markets to collapse. Many financial market experts and conservatives, especially TEA Partiers opposed to raising the debt ceiling, see no evidence that a default would occur in such a situation.[8] However, in 1983, when Congress was debating whether to raise the debt ceiling, Ronald Reagan said:

“The full consequences of a default — or even the serious prospect of default — by the United States are impossible to predict and awesome to contemplate. Denigration of the full faith and credit of the United States would have substantial effects on the domestic financial markets and the value of the dollar in foreign exchange markets. The Nation can ill afford to allow such a result. The risks, the costs, the disruptions, and the incalculable damage lead me to but one conclusion: the Senate must pass this legislation before the Congress adjourns.”[9]

United States bond rating

On August 5, 2011, the bond rating service Standard and Poor's, a company which rates the ability of institutions to repay their debt, lowered the United States federal government's long-term debt rating from AAA to AA+ for the first time since their ratings began in the early 1940s (a decrease never occurred even during World War II) and gave the government's credit a negative outlook, warning that unless the rate of new government spending were reduced, there would be grounds for lowering the rating again.[10]


Recent additions to U.S. federal debt[11]
Fiscal year (begins
Oct. 1 of year
prior to stated year)
New debt
fiscal year
New debt
% of GDP
Total debt
Total debt
as % of GDP
(Debt to GDP
New debt (over
and above all
federal taxes
paid during
fiscal year) per
family of four
% of
1994 $ 7,200 $281–292 3.9–4.1%~$4,65064.6–65.2%264~$4,30014.5%
1995 7,600 277–281 3.7%~4,95064.8–65.6%267~ 4,15016.5%
1996 8,000 251–261 3.1–3.3%~5,20065.0–65.4%271~ 3,80019.0%
1997 8,500 188 2.2%~5,40063.2–63.8%2742,75023.0%
1998 8,950 109–113 1.2–1.3%~5,50061.2–61.8%277~ 1,60022.5%
1999 9,500 127–130 1.3–1.4%5,64159.3%280~ 1,85022.5%
2000 10,150 18 0.2%5,65955.8%28325018.5%
2001 $10,550 $  133 1.3%$ 5,79254.8%286$ 1,86017.0%
2002 10,900 421 3.9%6,21357.1%2895,83019.0%
2003 11,350 570 5.0%6,78359.9%2927,82021.5%
2004 12,100 596 4.9%7,37961.0% 2948,10024.5%
2005 12,900 539 4.2%7,91861.4%2977,26024.5%
2006 13,700 575 4.2%8,49362.1%3007,67024.0%
2007 14,300 500 3.5%8,99362.8%3036,60025.0%
2008 14,750 1,018 6.9%10,01167.9%30613,30028.0%
2009 $14,400 $1,887 13.1%$11,89882.5%308$24,50030.0%
2010 14,800 1,653 11.2%13,55191.6%31021,30032.0%
2011 15,400 1,230 8.0% 14,78196.1%31315,70033.0%
2012 16,050 1,278 8.0% 16,059100.2%31516,20034.0%
2013 16,600 673 4.1% 16,732100.9%3178,48034.0%
2014 17,250 1,078 6.2% 17,810103.2%32013,50034.0%
2015 (Oct. '14-
Mar. '15 only)

The symbol "~" means "about" or "approximately".
In December 2014, the source for the U.S. population was changed to include armed forces living abroad, and the
two last columns of the table were revised slightly [1] (and a minor transposition error in FY 1998 and 1999
corrected in addition) to reflect the change.

On June 25, 2014 the BEA announced a 15-year revision of GDP figures would take place on July 31, 2014.
The figures for this table were corrected [2] on that day with changes to FY 2000, 2003, 2008, 2012, 2013 and 2014.

The more precise FY 1999–2014 debt figures are derived from Treasury audit results.[15]

The variations in the 1990s and FY 2015 GDP figures are due to double-sourced or
relatively preliminary GDP figures, respectively.

The U. S. Bureau of Economic Analysis performed a revision of GDP figures in 2013.

See Also

contrast with:


  1. United States Congress, Congressional Budget Office (July 27, 2010). "Federal Debt and the Risk of a Fiscal Crisis".
  2. 2.0 2.1 United States Department of the Treasury, Bureau of the Public Debt (December 2010). "The debt to the penny and who holds it". TreasuryDirect. Retrieved April 8, 2014.
  3. Tracy, Ryan et al. (December 19, 2014). "Bank bailouts approach a final reckoning". The Wall Street Journal website. Retrieved on April 11, 2015.
  4. 4.0 4.1 "Total population: All ages including Armed Forces overseas" (2014). Economic Research: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. Retrieved on December 4, 2014.
  5. The Skeptical Optimist (January 29, 2005). "National debt burden: full history". TSO (The Skeptical Optimist).
  6. Steve McGourty United States National Debt (1938 to Present) May 6, 2007
  7. "H. J. Res. 45 (111th): Increasing the statutory limit on the public debt" (2010). Became Public Law 111-139: Statutory Pay-as-You-Go Act of 2010.
  8. Hurlbut, Terry A. (May 16, 2011). "Debt ceiling reached, sky does not fall." Conservative News and Views
  9. (May 17, 2011). "Ronald Reagan on raising the debt ceiling". 2012 The Presidential Candidates
  10. Multiple references:
  11. The Executive Office of the President of the United States, Office of Management and Budget (February 14, 2010). "Historical Tables: Table 7-1; 10-1", The White House. Retrieved February 15, 2010.
  12. United States Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis. "National Economic Accounts: Gross Domestic Product: Current-dollar and 'real' GDP". Retrieved July 31, 2014.
  13. Multiple references:
  14. Multiple references:
    • 1994-1999: U. S. Department of Treasury (March 2005). Treasury Bulletin, p. 51. Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office.
    • 2000-2014: U. S. Department of Treasury (November 2014). "Major foreign holders of treasury securities". Department of Treasury website. Retrieved on December 29, 2014.
  15. Multiple references:

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