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US debt tops 16 trillion dollars

The US Treasury Department said that the national debt has topped 16 trillion US dollars (£10.1 trillion), the result of chronic government deficits that have poured more than 50,000 US dollars' worth of red ink on to federal ledgers for every man, woman and child in the United States.

The news was greeted with a round of press releases from Barack Obama's Republican rivals, who used the grim-but-expected news to criticise the president for the government's fiscal performance over his three-and-a-half years in office.

Mr Obama has presided over four straight years of trillion dollar-plus deficits after inheriting a weak economy from his predecessor George Bush.

"We can no longer push off the tough decisions until tomorrow," said House Republican Eric Cantor. "It's time to address the serious fiscal challenges we face and stop spending money we don't have."

Last summer, Mr Cantor dropped out of a set of budget talks hosted by vice president Joe Biden, citing the insistence of the White House on tax increases to help close deficits that require the government to borrow 33 cents of every dollar it spends.

The spiralling debt means that politicians and the eventual winner of the White House in November will have to pass a law early next year to raise the government's borrowing cap from the current ceiling of 16.39 trillion US dollars. Passing such legislation last year proved enormously difficult and the nation's credit rating suffered.

First, however, politicians will try during a post-election lame duck session to renew Bush-era tax cuts and head off a round of forced budget austerity as automatic budget cuts are scheduled in January to slam both the Pentagon and domestic programmes.

Those cuts were required by another failed set of budget talks last autumn by a bipartisan "supercommittee".

Republican vice presidential nominee Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin made his views felt, telling supporters in Cedar Rapids, Iowa: "Of all the broken promises from president Obama, this is probably the worst one, because this debt is threatening jobs today, it's threatening prosperity today and it is guaranteeing that our children and grandchildren get a diminished future."

Mr Ryan was named to Mr Obama's debt commission but voted against a proposal by its co-chairs. He declined an invitation by House Speaker John Boehner to try again on the supercommittee.


From Belfast Telegraph