By Stephen Dinan
Wednesday, June 2, 2010
The federal government is now $13 trillion in the red, the Treasury Department reported Wednesday, marking the first time the government has sunk that far into debt and putting a sharp point on the spending debate on Capitol Hill.
Calculated down to the exact penny, the debt totaled $13,050,826,460,886.97 as of Tuesday, leaping nearly $60 billion since Friday, the previous day for which figures were released.
At $13 trillion, that figure has risen by $2.4 trillion in about 500 days since President Obama took office, or an average of $4.9 billion a day. That's almost three times the daily average of $1.7 billion under the previous administration, and led Republicans on Wednesday to place blame squarely at the feet of Mr. Obama and his fellow Democrats.
"A $13 trillion debt is an alarm bell and a wake-up call combined, but Democrats are not even trying to pass a budget," said House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican. "How out of touch can Washington Democrats get? Instead of continuing to pay lip service to this issue, President Obama should call on congressional Democrats to pass a budget that provides the fiscal discipline economists say is needed to create jobs and grow our economy."
The White House would not comment for the record, but an official speaking on the condition of anonymity said the administration is "committed to restoring fiscal responsibility."
Spokesmen for the Democratic chairmen of the House and Senate budget committees didn't return messages Wednesday.
In the budget he submitted to Congress in February, the president acknowledged that his plans are not enough to reduce annual deficits to sustainable levels, which he said amounted to a yearly shortfall of 3 percent of gross domestic product. Mr. Obama called for a fiscal commission to make recommendations to close the gap, and commission members at their meeting last week said even that may not be enough.
"I think we've got to be more ambitious than that," said Alice Rivlin, former director of the Congressional Budget Office. "We really have to pick a trajectory that has the debt coming down. And there's probably no magic of whether it comes down 1 percent a year or 2 percent a year or whatever. But it's got to come down over time."
Underscoring the challenge of finding balance, Congress has not been able to pass a fiscal 2011 budget. The Senate Budget Committee has approved a proposed budget, but it has not been debated on the Senate floor, and House Democratic leaders have indicated that they may give up debt reduction altogether this year.
Several unofficial debt clocks had shown the debt crossing the $13 trillion threshold a week ago, though Treasury said those numbers were not official. Those clocks regularly recalibrate using Treasury numbers, but estimate growth rates in order to provide a per-second update on websites.
Treasury, meanwhile, reports numbers once a day and posts figures for the prior day. There was no figure for Monday because it was a federal holiday.
Total public debt includes two pots of money. One is normal government debt in the form of Treasury bills and bonds held by consumers, while the other is intragovernmental holdings, or money one part of the government borrows from another agency. That includes money borrowed from the Social Security trust funds.
Some analysts say the key measure is not the total public debt, but the debt in the hands of consumers.
That figure stood at $8.573 trillion on Tuesday, having jumped nearly $80 billion from Friday's number. By comparison, that one-day jump is well more than the $59 billion emergency war-spending bill that the Senate passed last week.
Mr. Obama charged the fiscal commission with finding ways to limit that number to 75 percent of gross domestic product.
The other half of the equation, intragovernmental debt to trust funds and the like, totaled $4.478 trillion as of Tuesday - a drop of about $20 billion from Friday's report.
The $13 trillion debt number is not significant other than that it's another milestone, but its tolling shows just how much debt has been amassed in a short time.
It took 197 days for the debt to rise from $12 trillion to $13 trillion, which is the second shortest trillion-dollar rise in history. The fastest trillion came at the end of 2008 and early 2009, when the Wall Street bailout created giant new obligations.
Congressional members and staffers, particularly on the Republican side, took a macabre interest as the debt flirted with $13 trillion all last week. Some lawmakers even jumped the gun in putting out statements based on the unofficial debt clocks.
At $13 trillion, that works out to an obligation of more than $42,000 for every U.S. resident.
"Throughout history, excessive debt has led to the demise of great nations," said Sen Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican. "This milestone should be a wake-up call for Congress. No one will bail out America if we continue to live beyond our means."
Earlier this year, Congress and Mr. Obama raised the country's debt limit to $14.3 trillion, hoping it would give the government enough room to spend through the end of this year.
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