Brother, Can You Spare $9 Trillion?

US Capitol building on money texture

This article was written by CBS News White House correspondent Mark Knoller.

Few took notice, but for the first time in U.S. history last Friday, the national debt hit an all-time high of $9 trillion.

To be exact, the total liabilities of the U.S. Government hit $9,005,648,561,262.70, according to the Bureau of the Public Debt at the Treasury Department.

Numerically, that's in excess of the debt ceiling set by Congress, which stands at $8.965 trillion.

Some components of the national debt are excluded from the debt ceiling calculation.

But had it truly been reached, the Treasury Department would be barred from selling any more bonds, notes and other securities until Congress raises the limit.

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson served notice on Congress in July that he expects the U.S. Government to bump into the debt ceiling in early October and that lawmakers need to raise the ceiling before then.

No official notice of the national debt milestone was taken by the White House. Understandably. It's an embarrassingly large figure for a president who claims to be fiscally-conservative to have to explain.

Mr. Bush often boasts about his commitment to fiscal restraint, and trumpets his efforts to bring down the annual federal deficit from its all-time high of $413 billion in 2004. The Administration forecasts a deficit this year of $205 billion. The forecast from the Congressional Budget Office is lower still at $158 billion.

But Mr. Bush almost never mentions the national debt. On the day he took office, the debt stood at $5.727 trillion. That means it has increased by 57 percent on his watch. So far.

And it's not just the size of the debt that's historic. So too is the amount taxpayers must pay annually in interest payments on $9 trillion in borrowed funds.

Last year, the interest on the debt exceeded $405 billion dollars. This year's interest payments will be even greater.

Because of the ebb and flow of revenues and liabilities, the size of the national debt changes daily. It fell slightly beneath the $9 trillion mark on Tuesday, but it won't stay there long.