What was the US national debt before Obama

19 trillion: US debt hits new record

Under President Barack Obama alone, the US national debt rose by almost 80 percent.

Vienna / Washington / New York. It's a questionable success story: just in time for the start of the primaries for the White House race, the national debt of the United States has risen to more than $ 19 trillion. That corresponds to 19,000 billion dollars or the equivalent of 17,380 billion euros. The ratio of debt to economic output for the USA is therefore more than 100 percent. The data is initially based on an extrapolation, the official confirmation by the US Treasury Department is still pending. According to the Treasury Department, the US debt level officially stood at $ 18.9 trillion at the end of December.

For comparison: Little Austria has piled up a mountain of debt of around 292 billion euros, which corresponds to around 86 percent of annual economic output. High national debt is a problem throughout the western world, but the US is moving at a fair rate: Under the current President, Barack Obama, national debt has increased by $ 8.4 trillion, representing a debt growth of nearly 80 percent since Obama's inauguration in January 2009.

It doesn't matter who sits in the White House

At that time, the US national debt was "only" $ 10.6 trillion. The Congressional Budget Office currently assumes that US debt will rise to $ 22.6 trillion by 2020 - and to $ 29.3 trillion by 2026. That would correspond to a new debt of about one trillion dollars per year. These estimates may turn out to be too optimistic, however, as US debt growth has recently accelerated exponentially.

It took the country about 200 years to reach $ 1 trillion in debt on October 22, 1981. Almost 27 years later, on September 30, 2008, ten trillion had been reached. Less than eight years later, Washington is now at $ 19 trillion. There is an official debt ceiling, the debt ceiling, but Congress regularly revises it upwards. The alternative would be an immediate shutdown of the US government and administration, which cannot function without new borrowing. It is therefore not surprising that the debt level and debt ceiling have continued to grow under both Republican and Democratic presidents. In other words, the question of who sits in the White House is ultimately irrelevant to the US national debt.

Federal Reserve holds 2.7 trillion

Because the US uses the dollar to print the world reserve currency with which a large part of international business (especially for oil) is carried out, the US can theoretically continue to borrow without any problems. Foreign states and central banks hold much of their reserves in dollars, which they invest in US government bonds. The US's largest creditor is China, which holds around 1.2 trillion in US Treasuries. Japan ranks second with around 1.17 trillion. The oil states hold around 300 billion. However, all three figures should be treated with caution, as various countries and their sovereign wealth funds are likely to hold US bonds indirectly.

The Bank for International Settlements suspects that countries such as China or Saudi Arabia and their state funds could hold hundreds of billions in US bonds via Caribbean bank centers as well as Luxembourg or Belgium. Some hedge funds are also likely to be invested in this way. How much US debt Saudi Arabia holds, for example, is the biggest mystery, since the US Treasury Department only reports data on the country in groups with other oil states.

Foreigners hold a total of around six trillion dollars in US government bonds - but this has been selling off for a few months. The US Federal Reserve has bought around 2.7 trillion in government bonds via quantitative easing with freshly printed money. Around 30 percent are also held by authorities, the government, such as social security.

("Die Presse", print edition, 02/03/2016)