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Walker Laurent Inc U.S. national debt

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U.S. national debt

For a long time, those worries about the size of the U.S. national debt, which currently stands at a hard-to-imagine $33 trillion, warned about the potential harm a debt crisis could cause if it came to fruition.

The effects of out-of-control debt are now felt by individuals and businesses dealing with higher borrowing costs.

The U.S. Treasury is now borrowing more money than the global financial system can stand to pay the trillions of dollars in expenses not covered by tax and other revenues, and while it has not evolved into a full-blown crisis, the effects are hurting everyone investing or borrowing money.

U.S. debt, which used to be a side conversation on Wall Street, is now a central talking point as investors look for ways to avoid losses -- or gain from them. Economists still think that if policymakers confront the situation soon and either raise taxes, cut spending, or both, it might be enough to make a meaningful difference and end the ever-increasing debt cycle.

This year's annual budget deficit is an astonishing $2 trillion, up from $1.4 trillion last year. In theory, with the end of pandemic spending, it should have been expected that the deficit would decrease if anything. Instead, it has grown largely because of protracted financial irresponsibility on both sides of the political spectrum.

Recently, attention has been diverted from the national debt to the extra $1 trillion the Treasury intends to borrow in the third quarter, which is $274 billion more than the forecast made only two months before. The additional borrowing is needed to cover a shortfall caused by fewer tax receipts and higher outgoings.

The two main political parties in the U.S. often blame one another for the country's mounting debt, but both bear responsibility. The U.S. last had an annual surplus in 2001, under the then-Democratic President Clinton, and since then, a series of expensive wars, economic stimulus packages, and tax cuts have inflated the debt.

Furthermore, since the start of Covid, successive presidents have signed off on over $5 trillion in stimulus spending, leading to the current situation of $33 trillion in national debt, an enormous increase from $6 trillion in 2001.

While paying off the entire debt is both highly unlikely and unnecessary, what is needed is a way to stop the debt from growing more and balance annual budgets, reducing the disparity between spending and revenue so that the debt in comparison to GDP remains stable or slowly decreases over time.

Most seem to agree that cutting spending on the most costly federal government programs, namely Social Security and Medicare, and raising taxes could significantly contribute to a solution. Perhaps a reduction in the almost $900 billion annual defense budget could also help redress the balance, but that is unlikely.

Republicans are continually calling for budget cuts, one of the reasons behind the revolt that ousted Speaker McCarthy at the beginning of October, but appear to be focused on relatively minor programs and overlook the more substantial social programs (and defense), which is where most of the federal money goes.

Biden has proposed raising taxes for businesses and the wealthy but has said he intends to invest most of the extra money generated into new programs instead of tackling debt, leaving neither party with any proposals to bring down debt meaningfully.

The United States is now spending more money on interest payments than funding the Pentagon, which should be a leading topic of discussion in the next election, and even if it is not, debt management will become a serious challenge for whoever is the next President, regardless of political affiliation.

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