Opinion: U.S. National Debt Has Topped $34 Trillion — Who Has the Guts to Fix It?

It’s déjà vu all over again.

For the third time in a little more than a year, the U.S. national debt has skyrocketed by another $1 trillion. Last week, it hit an astounding $34 trillion. It reached $31 trillion in October 2022, which was a big deal.

Please take a moment to think about it. In only 15 months, the federal government has added another $3 trillion to the debt. It took the United States 205 years to reach its first $1 trillion debt. But now, we add that much to our debt in only five months. Seriously?!

While we can only hope our political leaders will take this problem seriously, it is doubtful.

It’s tiring to see our debt continue to spiral out of control. It’s also sad about the consequences we will face soon if we continue on the same curse of recklessness. Think of slashed benefits, higher taxes, and rising interest rates.

Find a chart of America’s spending over the past decades, and it’s difficult to miss the sharp increase in the last ten years. It is unsustainable.

Now that the debt has reached $34 trillion, alarms are ringing — but only for a few.

The New York Times, for instance, announced, “The debt matters again.” Liberal economist Paul Krugman admitted, “Serious deficit reduction, a bad idea a decade ago, is a good idea now.” 

How does that logic make sense?

In the meantime, in Congress, with the backdrop of burgeoning debt, a divided Congress continues to bicker over the spending bills that, over the long term, will make very little difference. Any amount of savings is good. However, government shutdown threats over such minor changes are a waste of time.

Last fall, Congress effectively punted to keep the government open, not passing comprehensive spending bills, so legislators must now address it.

One positive sign is that Republican Speaker of the House Mike Johnson and Democrat Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer say they have worked out a deal. The spending agreement, totaling $1.66 trillion, is similar to former GOP House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s debt ceiling deal last year with President Joe Biden.

Representative McCarthy gained significant savings, even after the president said he would not negotiate. However, a few GOP members wanted more and eliminated McCarthy in October.

Biden and Republicans are separately ironing out a deal to secure the southern border in exchange for aid for Ukraine and Israel.

If the GOP wants to show the public they can govern, it is time to act. Additionally, infighting will be a turnoff to their constituents during an election year when the GOP must pick up more seats, which would be counterproductive.

Are any of our leaders serious about debt reduction?

Both Democrats and Republicans are to blame for the massive debt. However, it’s no coincidence the deficits and debt are increasing quickly under the president.

Several Congressional conservatives on the campaign trail like to moan about the debt, but few have said they would be willing to do what is necessary.

As economics and budget senior fellow at Manhattan Institute, Brian Riedl, said on X: “Seeing elected officials & candidates bemoaning the total federal debt hitting $34 trillion. Unless they support reforming Social Security or Medicare or raising middle-class taxes, you should dismiss their concerns as empty virtue signaling. All other reforms are too small.”

The director of Entitlement Policy and Budget at the Cato Institute, Romina Boccia, agrees.

“Given that Medicare and Social Security’s long-term unfunded obligations (the difference between projected spending and revenues over the next 75 years) jointly make up 95 percent of the federal government’s entire unfunded obligation, there’s simply no way out of the debt crisis without tackling unsustainable entitlement spending,” wrote Boccia recently.

However, it is unfortunately unpopular to confront that reality. No one wants the government to fiddle with their individual Medicare or Social Security payouts; it isn’t something most politicians are courageous enough to discuss.

But for the country’s future strength, and possibly to enjoy benefits yourself, support candidates with the guts to face the problem and make the tough decisions for change.