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US public debt exceeds $22 trillion for first time: Treasury

An October 18, 2018 photo shows the US Treasury Department building in Washington, DC. (Photo by AFP)

A daily statement by the Treasury Department shows the US’ national debt has passed a new milestone, topping $22 trillion for the first time in history.

The debt level stood at $19.95 trillion when President Donald Trump took office on Jan. 20, 2017, and the new level reflects a rise of more than $2 trillion.

The data released by the Treasury Department Tuesday came as tax revenue has fallen and federal spending continues to rise. 

The debt figure has been accelerating since the passage of Trump’s $1.5 trillion tax cut in December 2017 and action by Congress last year to increase spending on domestic and military programs.

The US is projected to rack up annual deficits and incur national debt at rates not seen since the 1940s, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

The Congressional Budget Office projects that this year’s deficit will be $897 billion — a 15.1 percent increase over last year’s imbalance of $779 billion.

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Over the next 10 years, annual federal deficits — when Congress spends more than it takes in through tax revenues — are expected to average $1.2 trillion, which would be 4.4 percent of gross domestic product. That's far higher than the 2.9 percent of GDP that has been the average for the past 50 years.

"Other than the period immediately after World War II, the only other time the average deficit has been so large over so many years was after the 2007–2009 recession," the CBO said last month.

Annual deficits and the national debt rose to new heights under the Obama administration, and the trend has continued under President Trump.

As a share of the US economy, the national debt stood at 78 percent of GDP in 2018. But the CBO says it will rise to 93 percent by the end of 2029. Again, those numbers put the ratio at levels not seen since just after World War II.

"By 2029, debt is estimated to reach $28.7 trillion," the CBO said in January, referring to federal debt held by the public — a figure that doesn't include the billions of dollars that the government owes to itself. In recent years, those intra-governmental holdings have hovered well above $5.5 trillion.

The US hit the new height despite Trump's promises on the campaign trail that he would reduce America's debt load. Almost exactly four years ago, he said that if the national debt topped $21 trillion by the end of President Obama's term in office, "Obama will have effectively bankrupted our country."

Trump has long said that he knows how to solve America's debt problem. As he said in 2015, "When you have $18-$19 trillion in debt, they need someone like me to straighten it out."

The new total of outstanding public debt comes despite Trump saying in August last year that new tariffs on imported goods would let the US "start paying down large amounts" of the national debt.

The national debt is the total of the annual budget deficits. 

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