Federal Government Debt: Its Size and Economic Significance [Updated January 29, 2008] [open pdf - 178KB]
From the Document: "After being in surplus between FY1998 and FY2001, the federal budget has now registered deficits for each of the last six fiscal years. The budget, given current policies, is now projected to remain in deficit through at least FY2011. During those four years of surpluses, the federal debt fell, but is now rising again. When the budget was in surplus, the policy issues were whether or not it would be worthwhile to pay off the national debt and whether or not the existence of public debt provided some economic benefits. Those are no longer issues. The return of budget deficits and rising debt compelled Congress to increase the statutory debt limit. Most recently, in September 2007, the President signed legislation increasing the statutory debt limit to $9.815 trillion (P.L. 110-91). At the beginning of 2008, the total outstanding federal debt was more than $9 trillion. The fact that there is more than one measure of federal debt may lead to some confusion. This report explains the different measures of the U.S. government debt, discusses the historical growth in the debt, identifies the current owners of the debt, presents comparisons with government debt in other countries, and examines the potential economic risks associated with a growing federal debt."
CRS Report for Congress, RL31590