National Debt Soars $500B In Under A Month

This story was written by CBS News White House correspondent Mark Knoller


It's the surge you won't hear anyone boast about.

Never before in U.S. history has the national debt increased as much and as rapidly as it has over the past month.

Since September 30, the day the national debt hit the $10-trillion mark for the first time, the government has run up over $500 billion in new debt.

That's more than the federal deficit for the entire 2008 fiscal year, which ended September 30. And it's the most rapid increase in the national debt ever: over half a trillion dollars in less than a month - 23 days to be exact.

The government's latest calculation of the national debt stands at $10,530,893,033,778.21 - that's $10.5-trillion for short. It took less than four months for it to rocket to that level from $9.5 trillion on July 21.

Less than four months! To put it in perspective, consider this: it took the U.S. government over four decades, from 1940 to 1982, to run up its first trillion dollars of debt.

The second and third trillions were racked up much more quickly - each in just four years. And it only took from 1990 to 1992 for the national debt to hit $4 trillion.

On the day President Bush was sworn in, the debt stood at $5.7 trillion. Less than eight years later, the it's within days of having swelled $5 trillion dollars on his watch - an embarrassing milestone for a president who considers himself a conservative and an advocate of fiscal discipline.

What's to blame for the most recent surge in the debt? Above all else, it's the federal government's response to the financial crisis.

"It's the Supplementary Financing Program being run by Treasury to provide cash for the Federal Reserve," says Corrine Hirsh, spokeswoman for the White House Office of Management and Budget.

By that, she means the billions of dollars disbursed by the Fed to keep the financial markets at home and abroad from collapsing. It includes the $124 billion used to keep insurance industry giant American International Group from going bust.

And this week, the Treasury Department started to spend the $700 billion dollars in the congressionally authorized bailout program, so the national debt can be expected to soar even more rapidly in the coming months.

But on January 20, it becomes another president's problem. And unless he slashes federal spending or enacts major tax hikes, the ballooning deficit and debt leave no money for any of the big ticket programs he's promised to deliver.

Instead, the 44th president will have to deal with the problem of how to pay the interest on the expanding debt. If past practice holds, it's a good bet the government will just borrow the money.
By Mark Knoller
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    Mark Knoller is a CBS News White House correspondent.

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