Pile of debt would stretch beyond stratosphere

WASHINGTON Thu May 19, 2011 2:32pm EDT

The National Debt Clock, which displays the current United States gross national debt and each American family's share, hangs on a wall next to an office for the Internal Revenue Service near Times Square, in New York, May 16, 2011. REUTERS/Chip East

The National Debt Clock, which displays the current United States gross national debt and each American family's share, hangs on a wall next to an office for the Internal Revenue Service near Times Square, in New York, May 16, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Chip East

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Ronald Reagan once famously said that a stack of $1,000 bills equivalent to the U.S. government's debt would be about 67 miles high.

That was 1981. Since then, the national debt has climbed to $14.3 trillion. In $1,000 bills, it would now be more than 900 miles tall.

In $1 bills, the pile would reach to the moon and back twice.

The United States hit its legal borrowing limit on Monday, and the Treasury Department has said the U.S. Congress must raise the debt ceiling by August 2 to avoid a default.

The White House is trying to hammer out a deal with lawmakers to cut federal spending in exchange for a debt-limit increase.

Most people have trouble conceptualizing $14.3 trillion.

Stan Collender, a budget expert at Qorvis Communications, said the biggest sum most Americans have ever handled -- in real or play money -- is the $15,140 in the original, standard Monopoly board game.

The United States borrows about 185 times that amount each minute.

Here are some other metrics for understanding the size of the national debt and United States borrowing:

* U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has said the United States borrows about $125 billion per month.

With that amount, the United States could buy each of its more than 300 million residents an Apple Inc iPad.

* In a 31-day month, that means the United States borrows about $4 billion per day.

A stack of dimes equivalent to that amount would wrap all the way around the Earth with change to spare.

* In one hour, the United States borrows about $168 million, more than it paid to buy Alaska in 1867, converted to today's dollars.

In two hours, the United States borrows more than it paid France for present-day Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa and the rest of the land obtained by the 1803 Louisiana Purchase.

* The U.S. government borrows more than $40,000 per second. That's more than the cost of a year's tuition, room and board at many universities.

"That usually gets their attention," Doug Holtz-Eakin, who was chief White House economist under President George W. Bush, said in an email. "I have two kids, so every 10 seconds, the feds borrow more than I paid lifetime."

* The Congressional Budget Office projects the total budget deficit in fiscal 2011 at about $1.4 trillion.

"The net worth of Bill Gates, roughly around $56 billion, could only cover the deficit for 15 days," said Jason Peuquet, a policy analyst with the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. "The net worth of Warren Buffet, roughly around $50 billion, could only cover the deficit for 13 days."

(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)

Corrects last paragraph to say Jason Peuquet, not James Peuquet

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Comments (62)
When will our country get serious about our out of control spending? Out politicians don’t have the integrity or guts to make real spending cuts – so it’s time to take their credit card away. Force our government to live within it’s means and make budget decisions like most American families. Force them to prioritize their spending. Promises of getting our government’s spending under control won’t cut it any more (we’ve already given them that chance). Our standard of living has been subsidized at the expense of our children and grandchildren. Shame on us! Make a stand, call your representatives in Washington and require them to hold our debt ceiling where it is. Let’s take the collective pain (and yes there will be some short-term pain) and make the hard right choice for our children’s long-term future.

May 19, 2011 1:53pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
bikerjoe wrote:
Sounds like we should look into this further with special committees, think tanks, and maybe even some 10+ year government study to see if its just a short trend or if we are really that far in debt. Maybe we could hire some accountants and specialists to check into the accuracy of all this debt. (ok, I am being totally facetious) Wake up folks, we’re broke. Can anyone remember when they were young and wanted something and their mother and father said; “Sorry but we can’t afford that right now” Guess what… we can’t afford much right now.

May 19, 2011 2:31pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
crazycrackpot wrote:
US Financial system = Biggest ponzi scheme in history.

May 19, 2011 2:34pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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