Two Major Risks to Federal Government Debt Levels Post-Debt Ceiling Settlement
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Two Major Risks to Federal Government Debt Levels Post-Debt Ceiling Settlement

The national debt is poised to move into completely unchartered territory. Assuming the US remains one contiguous country, we are going to move from $31 trillion in outstanding US liabilities to somewhere in the $35-$36 trillion range over the next couple of years. We are experiencing debt levels that were simply unimaginable prior to Trump becoming President in 2017 when the national debt was below $20 trillion. There are two very real risks that are emerging here.

The first risk is that servicing the debt encroaches on government spending. This risk is exacerbated by the reality that interest rates may remain much higher for the next several years than they have been at any time since before the 2008 financial crisis. A government that is paying well over $1.50 trillion annually just to service its debt has a lot less money for necessary programs (defense, transportation, decarbonization) than one that needed one-sixth that amount annually in 2016 to do the same.

The second risk lies in the possibility that there comes a day when the US government needs to roll over its debt and the buyers just don't show up. China - US political tensions and China's decision not to roll their US Treasury holdings could be destabilizing to the US financial system.

Ray Dalio, the founder of Bridgewater, said a lot of things in his interview this morning with Sara Eisen on CNBC, but I think he succinctly outlined how these two risks could impact the US financial system.

Other risks in the debt levels that are frequently cited - such as debt being too high a level of the GDP - are out there, but it is difficult to see how any of these could immediately result in a financial crisis.

Ari Socolow
Ari Socolow: Ari Socolow is the Chief Economist and Editor-in-Chief at BestCashCow. He is particularly interested in issues relating to bank transparency and the climate crisis. Since co-founding BestCashCow in 2005, Ari has been frequently cited in the media as an expert on local and national savings accounts, CD products, mortgage and loan products and credit card rewards products.

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