Understanding the Complexities of the U.S. Budget as the National Debt Increases

By Chris Adams

Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, gave reporters a tutorial on the federal budget process, and offered strategies for understanding the size and scope of the national debt.

In a session with National Press Foundation fellows, MacGuineas described the relative size of the deficit and of the national debt – and explained how even experts don’t talk consistently about whether the best measure to use is “debt held by the public” ($14.1 trillion in fiscal 2016) or “gross debt” ($19.4 trillion); the difference stems from whether obligations to the Social Security system are included.

MacGuineas’ group is nonpartisan, but it does have an emphasis on debt and deficit reduction. She led reporters through the process under which the White House and Congress work on the budget, and led them through the long-term implications of the historically high levels of the debt the country now maintains.

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