Top 10 Reasons Why the National Debt Matters

Feb 12, 2024

At $34 trillion and rising, the national debt threatens America’s economic future. Here are the top ten reasons why the national debt matters.

  1. Trillion dollar deficits are now the norm.

    The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects that the U.S. government will run trillion-dollar deficits over the next 10 years, resulting in a cumulative deficit of $20.0 trillion between 2025 and 2034.
  2. Interest costs are growing rapidly.

    Interest costs were $659 billion in 2023 and are projected to rise to $1.6 trillion by 2034. In 2023 alone, the United States spent more on net interest costs than it did on Medicaid and Income Security Programs.
  3. Key investments in our future are at a risk.

    Higher interest costs could crowd out important public investments that can fuel economic growth — priority areas like education, R&D, and infrastructure. A nation saddled with debt will have less to invest in its own future.
  4. Rising debt means fewer economic opportunities for Americans.

    Rising debt reduces business investment and slows economic growth. It also increases expectations of higher rates of inflation and erosion of confidence in the U.S. dollar. The federal government should not allow budget imbalances to harm the economy and families across the country.
  5. Less flexibility to respond to crises.

    On its current path, the United States is at greater risk of a fiscal crisis, and high amounts of debt could leave policymakers with much less flexibility to deal with unexpected events. If the country faces another major recession like that of 2007–2009, it will be more difficult to recover.
  6. Protecting the essential safety net.

    The unsustainable fiscal path threatens the safety net and the most vulnerable in American society. If the government does not have sufficient resources, essential programs like Medicaid and Social Security could be put in jeopardy.
  7. A solid fiscal foundation leads to economic growth.

    A solid fiscal outlook provides a foundation for a growing, thriving economy. Putting the nation on a sustainable fiscal path creates a positive environment for growth, opportunity, and prosperity. With a strong fiscal foundation, the United States will have increased access to capital, more resources for private and public investments, improved consumer and business confidence, and a stronger safety net.
  8. The national debt is a bipartisan priority for Americans.

    Three out of every four voters agree that the national debt should be a top three priority for lawmakers.
  9. Many solutions exist!

    The good news is that there are plenty of solutions to choose from. The Peterson Foundation’s Solutions Initiative brought together policy organizations from across the political spectrum to develop long-term fiscal plans. From budget reform to national security spending to overhauling our tax system, there are comprehensive plans that make placing the nation on a strong, sustainable fiscal footing possible.
  10. The sooner we act, the easier the path.

    It makes sense to get started soon. According to CBO, addressing high and rising debt sooner rather than later means that smaller policy changes would be required to achieve long-term objectives. The benefits of reducing deficits sooner include a smaller accumulated debt and therefore less risk to long-term economic growth and stability. Like any debt problem, the sooner you start to address it, the easier it is to solve.

Addressing the national debt is an essential part of securing America’s economic future. These key fiscal and economic issues should be at the forefront of the policy conversation in Washington, and leaders should seize the opportunity to pursue sensible reforms that will put the U.S. long-term fiscal outlook on a sustainable path.

Expert Views: Fiscal Commission

We asked experts with diverse views from across the political spectrum to share their perspectives.

National Debt Clock

See the latest numbers and learn more about the causes of our high and rising debt.