Federal Debt Tops $24 Trillion for First Time; GAO: 'The Current Federal Fiscal Path is Unsustainable'

By Terence P. Jeffrey | April 9, 2020 | 4:42pm EDT
(Getty Images/J. Scott Applewhite-pool)
(Getty Images/J. Scott Applewhite-pool)

(CNSNews.com) - The debt of the federal government topped $24 trillion for the first time on Tuesday, when it climbed from $23,917,212,663,857.59 to $24,011,523,316,653.36, according to data released by the Treasury Department.

On Wednesday, it continued climbing, ascending to $24,111,832,049,884.90.

The federal debt's climb from the $23-trillion threshold to the $24-trillion threshold was the fastest climb from one trillion-dollar marker to another in the history of the federal debt—taking only 159 days.

The chart below shows the date on which the federal debt surpassed each trillion-dollar threshold from $5 trillion to $24 trillion:

The second fastest jump from one trillion-dollar threshold to another was when the debt climbed from the $10-trillion mark on Sept. 30, 2008 to the $11-trillion mark on March 16, 2009. That climb from one trillion-dollar threshold to another took only 167 days.


The federal debt first topped $23 trillion just five months ago on November 7, 2019. On that day, the debt rose from $22,985,834,022,811.17 to $23,004,022,933,459.45.

The debt first topped $22 trillion just 9 months before that (or 14 months before now) on Feb. 11, 2019, when it rose from $21,957,707,162,297.58 to $22,012,840,891,685,32.

It first topped $21 trillion just 11 months before that (or 25 months before now) on March 15, 2018, when it rose from $20,958,230,936,189.63 to $21,031,067,004,766.25.

It first topped $20 trillion six months before that (or 31 months before now) on Sept. 8, 2017, when it rose from $19,844,586,961,607.12 to $20,162,176,797,904.13

The federal debt's climb from the $20-trillion threshold to the $21-trillion threshold took 188 days—making that the third fastest rise in history from one trillion-dollar marker to another.

The debt first topped $19 trillion on Jan. 29, 2016, when it rose from $18,989,803,014,663.70 to $19,012,827,698,417.93.

It took the debt 20 months for the debt to rise from $19 trillion to $20 trillion.

In its annual report to Congress on the nation’s fiscal health, which was published last month, the Government Accountability Office, said the federal government’s “fiscal path is unsustainable.”

“Long-term fiscal projections by GAO, CBO, and in the 2019 Financial Report show that, absent policy changes, the federal government continues to face an unsustainable long-term fiscal path,” said the GAO report.

“Although each of these long-term projections uses somewhat different assumptions, their conclusions are the same: over the long term, the imbalance between spending and revenue that is built into current law and policy will lead to (1) deficits exceeding $1 trillion each year beginning in fiscal year 2020 and (2) both the annual deficit and cumulative total debt held by the public continuing to grow as shares of GDP,” said GAO.

“This situation—in which debt grows faster than GDP—means the current federal fiscal path is unsustainable,” GAO concluded.

The business and economic reporting of CNSNews.com is funded in part with a gift made in memory of Dr. Keith C. Wold.

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