Between mid-March and late June 2020, the Treasury’s total borrowing rose by about $2.9 trillion, and the Fed’s holdings of U.S. Treasury debt rose by about $1.6 trillion. Measured against the size of the economy, the debt was around 35% of GDP before the Great Recession of 2007–09 and had risen to nearly 80% of GDP right before the pandemic. It drains our wealth and sends a large percentage of it overseas. With the national debt of the United States at $26.6 trillion, ... We already had a debt problem before COVID-19. A Note from Michael Peterson on the Impact of the Pandemic, Top 10 Reasons Why the National Debt Matters. At some point, action will have to be taken to rein in the deficit, but we may be a long way from that point. Even during the Great Recession, the largest deficit recorded (in Fiscal Year 2009) was just 9.8% of GDP. All rights reserved. At 17.9% of GDP in Fiscal Year 2020, the federal deficit is almost twice as large than at the worst of the Great Recession in 2009. Why is the National Debt a Problem? Per Capita Healthcare Costs — International Comparison. Lower growth. “It simply allows the government to pay for expenditures Congress has already approved, thereby protecting the full faith and credit of the United States.” In August 2019, as part of a bipartisan budget deal that raised spending levels, Congress suspended the debt limit for two years. Big deficits mean a growing federal debt—the total the government owes—already at its highest point since World War II. There was a lot of concern that the size of the debt would limit the amount of flexibility the U.S. government had if it confronted a financial crisis or a deep recession and wanted to borrow heavily, as it did during the Great Recession. It’s headed to around 100% of GDP by the end of Fiscal Year 2020 on September 30, and—barring a major change in tax or spending policy—it will keep rising after that to levels never before seen in U.S. history. Interest costs were $376 billion in 2019, and are projected to rise … Even at low rates, the government spent about $260 billion on interest in the first eight months of the fiscal year, roughly equal to the combined spending of the Departments of Commerce, Education, Energy, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Justice, and State. Interest on the debt (as of 2010) was larger than all but a handful of programs, over $400 Billion. Fewer Jobs. Many Americans, young and old, may be confused by the complex set of issues that comprise how the government raises revenues and allocates them. It weakens the dollar when it becomes excessive. Eventually you are only able to pay the interest and nothing else. The Congressional Budget Office projected in April 2020 that the deficit for Fiscal Year 2020 will be at least $3.7 trillion, or 17.9% of projected GDP, and it could be even larger if Congress approves more spending increases or tax cuts in light of the pandemic. It drains our wealth and sends a large percentage of it overseas. It may be counterintuitive, but government shutdowns are expensive. When the coronavirus pandemic hit in early 2020 and the government ordered a lockdown of much of the economy, Congress responded with substantial spending to ease the pain. Each day that the government spends more than it takes in, it adds to the federal debt. Even before the pandemic, the federal deficit was large by historical standards and projected to rise. They are also bad for the economy. Interest costs are growing rapidly. We will no longer control our own destiny. In July 2010 the national debt stood $13.2 trillion, an increase of $2.6 trillion or 25 percent - in 18 months since January 2009. The sharp recession and the spending increases that Congress and the president approved in response has made the deficit even bigger. As it turned out, the U.S. government was able to borrow readily during the pandemic. Brookings unpacks the issues shaping the 2020 election through fact-based analysis. At $23 trillion and rising, the national debt threatens America’s economic future. In 2010, the Fed held about 10% of all Treasury debt outstanding; today it holds more than 20%. Yes, but the recent increases in Treasury borrowing have come at a time of very low interest rates. The debt is the total the U.S. government owes—the sums it borrowed to cover last year’s deficit and all the deficits in years past. The debt is the total the U.S. government owes—the sums it borrowed to cover last year’s deficit and all the deficits in years past. And the recent increase in borrowing—while enormous—is a temporary increase intended to combat an emergency; it changes the level of the debt, but not its long-run trajectory. By the middle of June 2020, this measure of the debt was up to $20.3 trillion. That gave way to an overall ceiling on federal borrowing in 1917, which Congress has raised repeatedly, often with a lot of political controversy. Extraordinarily low interest rates allow the U.S. to shoulder a heavier debt burden, but the debt is on an unsustainable course and its size may limit the government’s ability or willingness to continue to fight the economic ill effects of the pandemic or future economic downturns. For fiscal year 2019, which ended September 30, 2019, total revenues were $3.5 trillion (up 4% from the previous year) and total spending was $4.4 trillion (up 8% from the previous year). That makes it easier for the Treasury to increase its borrowing without pushing up interest rates. Indeed, the fact that global interest rates remain very low while governments around the world are borrowing heavily to fight the COVID-19 recession suggests that there is still a lot of savings around the world, more than is needed to finance private investment. Congress has always restricted federal borrowing. The deficit is the difference between the flow of government spending and the flow of government revenues, mainly taxes. But even if the government can continue to borrow at low interest rates, politicians may be reluctant to do so because they’ve already borrowed so much. Addressing our national debt is an essential part of securing America’s economic future. (The record was set during World War II in 1946, at 106.1% of GDP.). The resulting deficit was $984 billion (4.6% of gross domestic product) compared to $779 billion (3.8% of GDP) in the previous year. These key fiscal and economic issues should be at the forefront of the policy conversation in Washington, and our leaders should seize the opportunity to pursue sensible reforms that will put our long-term fiscal trajectory on a sustainable path. The combination of the deep recession (which automatically leads to less tax revenue and more spending on programs like Medicaid and food stamps) and the spending Congress appropriated in response to the pandemic increased the deficit significantly. Over the next decade, interest will total nearly $6 trillion. “Increasing the debt limit does not authorize new spending commitments,” former Treasury Secretary Jack Lew once said.