National Debt Hits $31 Trillion — and China Owns a Dangerous Share

National Debt Hits $31 Trillion — and China Owns a Dangerous Share

The national debt first exceeded $1 trillion in 1982. It took another 26 years for it to reach $10 trillion in 2008. It then took nine years for it to reach $20 trillion in 2017.

Five years later, the national debt stands at $31 trillion.

And that’s just the official debt, which reflects America’s imbalance between taxing and spending up to the present moment. It does not take into account other major long-term spending commitments:

  • Medicare: approximately $60 trillion
  • Social Security: more than $45 trillion
  • Military and civilian retirement benefits: More than $10 trillion

When these “unfunded liabilities” are taken into account, the “real” national debt exceeds $143 trillion — more than $900,000 per taxpayer.

$31 trillion dollars in $1 bills.What 31 trillion $1 bills stack up to.

That’s scary enough. But what’s even more scary is that $981 billion of that debt is owned by Chinese lenders and the Chinese government.

NPR’s Planet Money reported in August that some analysts believe China “is weaponizing its holdings of U.S. debt [and] threatening to sell it all off in one go, possibly crashing the U.S. economy. … With the economy balanced on the knife edge of recession like it is right now, the timing would not be good. And trying to find buyers for $981 billion of U.S. Treasuries could be really tough.”

There’s lots for lawmakers to do here. They need to work together across the aisle to balance the budget (they could start by actually passing one), and commit to paying down the debt to prevent the possibility of catastrophe.

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