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US national debt surpasses $33 trillion for first time

The grim milestone comes as Congress debates a new spending plan to avert the looming government shutdown.
US national debt surpasses $33 trillion for first time
Posted at 9:14 AM, Sep 19, 2023

The U.S. national debt exceeded $33 trillion for the first time ever this week, according to the Treasury Department, surpassing a critical milestone at a time when government spending is in the national spotlight. 

By comparison, that figure hovered around $907 billion just four decades ago. The country has also added an additional $1 trillion to the national debt in just the past three months. 

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"We are becoming numb to these huge numbers, but it doesn’t make them any less dangerous," said Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. "The Congressional Budget Office confirmed just last week that the underlying deficit is going to roughly double from last fiscal year to this one. Instead of hearing about solutions, we hear promises of which programs our leaders are unwilling to touch and which taxes they are unwilling to raise. That kind of talk is not only pandering, but it’s also downright irresponsible when we have a mess like this on our hands." 

The historic debt level comes as lawmakers in Congress race to avoid a government shutdown at the end of the month. A short-term funding measure has dominated the September agenda, but negotiations on Capitol Hill have faltered with just days until the government's fiscal year ends on Sept. 30. 

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Republicans have tried to load their spending proposal with conservative policy agenda items, from provisions blocking abortion coverage to slashing defense packages for Ukraine. But with Democrats controlling the Senate, they are almost certain to reject many conservative proposals. 

Top lawmakers in both the House and Senate are now considering a stopgap funding package, a strategy often used to give Congress more time to negotiate a long-term agreement and keep government offices open in the meantime.  But House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is facing resistance from both Democrats and members of his own party in hopping on board with the temporary fix. 

"Honestly, it's a pretty big mess," House Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said at an event in Kentucky earlier this month.

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