$16 Trillion Debt `Grim Landmark’ — Republicans say as Democrats Open

At the Republican National Convention in Tampa last week, digital debt clocks hanging above the convention floor alerted delegates to the rising toll of the accrued federal debt: Approaching $16 trillion as Mitt Romney accepted his party’s nomination for president.

As the Democratic National Convention assembled this week in Charlotte — ready to hear former President Bill Clinton place President Barack Obama’s name in nomination for re-election, there is no such show-clock. The debt has reached $16 trillion.

While Republicans have attempted to make the debt an issue in Obama’s re- election — with a new party ad claiming that it has grown more on Obama’s watch than under any president before him — the Democrats have some vulnerability on this. In particular, the refusal of the Obama White House to embrace the recommendations of the co-chairs of the debt commission he empaneled, Simpson-Bowles. (Then again, Romney running mate Paul Ryan, a member of the commission, voted against the plan.) At the same time, President George W. Bush presided over an 83 percent increase in the national debt. Obama so far is clocking under 50 percent.

Bloomberg BNA’s Jonathan Nicholson writes today of the news from the Treasury Department: “The public debt of the U.S. government has topped $16 trillion for the first time, a milestone congressional Republicans said underscored the failure of President Obama’s fiscal policies. ” He also notes that another debt-ceiling debate looms, with the debt expected to reach its statutory early imit next year.

According to the Treasury’s daily financial statement issued by the Financial Management Service, overall public debt totaled $16.016 trillion as of Aug. 31, the latest date for which data were available. The figure is slightly different from the public debt subject to a congressionally set limit, Nicholson notes.

More from BNA:

The conflict between congressional Republicans and the White House in 2011 over whether to raise that ceiling raised the prospect of a U.S. government default and led in part to one of the three major credit agencies downgrading the government’s creditworthiness.

The overall public debt figure includes the debt subject to limit, such as outstanding Treasury bonds, notes and bills, but also other types of federal debt not subject to the limit, such as debt issued by the Federal Financing Bank. Debt subject to limit was $15.977 trillion Aug. 31, according to Treasury. The current limit of $16.394 trillion, set in the Budget Control Act (Pub. L. No. 112-25) in 2011, is not expected to be exhausted until early 2013 is not expected to be exhausted until early 2013 if Treasury makes the same accounting moves as it has in the past in similar situations.

Nicholson assays the political impact today as well:

“Today’s news is another sad reminder of President Obama’s broken promise to cut the deficit in half. Instead of working in a bipartisan way to fulfill his promise, the president went on a ‘stimulus’-fueled spending binge that stuck every American man, woman, and child with a $50,000 share of this $16 trillion national debt,” said House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, in a statement.

“This debt is a drain on our economy and a crushing burden on our kids and grandkids, and it’s yet another indication that the president’s policies have made things worse,” Boehner said.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, called the $16 trillion “a grim landmark.”

“We are on a dramatically unsustainable path. Forty cents of every dollar we spend is borrowed. Systemic factors, such as our aging population, make this the most serious financial challenge our nation has ever faced,” he said.

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