U.S. passes $18 trillion in debt, and nothing’s being done about it

The Morning Line
Today in the Morning Line:

  • $18 trillion national debt
  • What to watch for in shutdown showdown
  • Obama talks deportations, CIA report
  • Hillary’s the choice of millionaires, and it says a lot about who’s getting buzz

The national debt at $18 trillion dollars: A story away from the pack for you this morning. Just in case you don’t check the national-debt-to-the-penny website from the Treasury Department regularly, we do. And in the past two weeks, we saw the national debt rise above $18 trillion dollars for the first time. It has fallen slightly since then, to $17,997,912,502,715.74 as of Dec. 9.

What does this mean? The number $18 trillion isn’t especially significant in and of itself. (Other than the fact that it’s enough money to buy a new car for every person in America. And Canada. And Mexico.) But it is noteworthy because this large number comes when the debt is at a relative low point in growth. The deficit, which pumps the red ink into the debt, is down. And the Congressional Budget Office predicts it will be down again next year. In other words, this big number is about to get a lot bigger in the next two years. Unless one of two things happens: (1) the U.S. brings in more revenue (economic boom or a tax increase, for example) or (2) the U.S. government finds a way to cut costs, especially the biggest, least-addressed costs of entitlements.

Republicans, days from assuming full control of the U.S. Congress, have generally prioritized tax cuts over deficit cuts in recent votes on Capitol Hill. So, it’s a good issue to follow when they return in January. If nothing changes, $18 trillion in debt will seem relatively small.

Shutdown showdown viewing guide: Watch C-SPAN closely today. We’re waiting to see if House Republicans hold the vote they planned on their government funding proposal. The House is scheduled to hold its last votes at 3 p.m. EST. If that time comes and goes with no vote, we’ll know there are problems. Conservatives want a more firm rebuke of the president’s immigration action. Democrats sharply pushed back yesterday after news broke that the deal included rollbacks of the Wall Street reforms in the Dodd-Frank Act and of campaign finance limits to political parties. But, no fears, say the top guns on the Hill. Sources from both the House Republican leadership and Senate Democratic leadership told our Lisa Desjardins that they still expect passage of the bill. Though an important note: the House GOP source also said they have a backup plan: a short-term funding bill that keeps government running into January.

Also watch: This amendment proposed by Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., yesterday, which aims to defund President Obama’s most recent immigration policy (allowing more illegal immigrants to temporarily stay in the country). Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., tweeted late last night that 65 members were co-sponsoring.

Vote counting: Any bill needs 218 to pass in the House if all members vote. Currently there are 234 Republicans and 201 Democrats. One bottom line: Speaker Boehner can afford 16 Republican ‘no’ votes on the spending bill, but if 17 or more Republicans vote against it, he will need Democratic votes to pass it.

Obama on deportations, CIA program: Don’t overlook the interview Jorge Ramos conducted with President Obama. The president made his first on-camera remarks about the Senate CIA interrogation report but also struggled in answering why he didn’t act sooner on deportations. Ramos read back to him a quote from a town hall, in which the president said, “With respect to the notion that I can just suspend deportations through executive order, that’s just not the case.” Ramos pressed: “That’s exactly what you did.” The president tried to make a distinction between stopping SOME deportations and stopping them ALTOGETHER. “[T]he notion was that we could just stop deportations period, and we can’t do that,” Mr. Obama argued. “What I’ve said very clearly, consistently is that we have to enforce our immigration laws, but that we have prosecutorial discretion given the limited resources, and we can’t deport 11 million people. … The question is, are we doing the right thing, and have we consistently tried to move this country in a better direction.”

‘Terrible mistake were made’: Before the Senate report was ever made public, the president derided the CIA interrogation program, ending it and saying this year, “We tortured some folks.” In the interview with Ramos, the president refrained from taking an explicit shot at former President George W. Bush for approving the program, but he did say, “There were a lot of people who did a lot of things right and worked very hard to keep us safe, but I think that any fair-minded person looking at this would say that some terrible mistakes were made in allowing these kinds of practices to take place.” He added about going forward: “When we are under threat and we’re afraid and the public is clamoring to do something, that’s when we have to be most on guard, because, you know, there are times where we can slip into the kinds of activities that I don’t think we want to see repeated.”

Hillary Clinton, the choice of millionaires — what it really means: CNBC surveyed 500 millionaires across the country and across political stripes, 93 percent of whom voted in the midterms, and found Hillary Clinton was their top choice. She gets 31 percent followed by Republican Jeb Bush at 18 percent, Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J., at 14 percent and Gov. Scott Walker, R-Wis., at 11 percent. Of course, that doesn’t mean Clinton would win millionaires in a head to head, but she is the overwhelming pick — getting 72 percent — of Democratic millionaires. But who cares what millionaires think, anyway, right? Well, those names help explain why there is constant buzz about those particular candidates, and with so much money in politics, the candidates who can raise the most money are often the candidates who win. This shows which candidates have the opportunity to reach into some deep pockets.

Daily Presidential Trivia: On this day in 2001, President George W. Bush gave a significant policy speech at the Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina, calling for sweeping changes in the military and intelligence gathering to fight the war on terror. He told cadets that the U.S. was finding “new tactics and new weapons” to defeat its enemies. Which U.S. president had the most experience working in intelligence gathering? Be the first to tweet the correct answer using #PoliticsTrivia and we’ll give you a well-deserved mention here. Congratulations to Kenneth Davis (@kennethcdavis) and William Rives (@MrWmCR) who both correctly answered yesterday’s question quickly, replying that John C. Calhoun was the vice president who disagreed with Andrew Jackson on state’s rights. A special shout-out to the students in the Providence Schools, for whom Mr. Rives sent the answer.


  • President Obama is expected to announce $390 million in public and private funding for manufacturing and apprenticeships Thursday.

  • Liberal opposition to the spending bill mounted Wednesday, with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, speaking from the Senate floor, pushing House Dems not to vote for it. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Whip Steny Hoyer, however, while they may not like the bill, aren’t eager for their caucus to edge the government toward a shutdown.

  • Leading 2016 candidates, including Chris Christie, Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton, are keeping their mouths shut on torture. An exception: Marco Rubio.

  • Does Jeb Bush have a Mitt Romney problem? Bloomberg digs into SEC documents exposing the former Florida governor’s offshore private equity holdings.

  • In a hypothetical 2016 match with Hillary Clinton, Chris Christie would lose New Jersey. That’s nothing new for the blue state. But in the latest Quinnipiac poll released Thursday, more New Jersey voters said they didn’t think Americans were ready to elect a “Jersey Guy” as president.

  • Meanwhile, New Jersey’s largest pension fund is suing Christie for taking $2.4 billion out of the pension fund to close budget shortfalls.

  • “I’ve been trained to never say no. But it is highly, highly unlikely,” Sen. Mary Landrieu said Wednesday in response to questions about whether she’d ever run for governor or Senate again.

  • Two years after the elementary school schooting in Sandy Hook, Conn., a Pew poll has found for the first time in 20 years that more Americans support “gun rights” than support “gun control.”

  • Mr. Obama’s executive action on immigration is popular among Hispanic immigrants, but Hispanics born in the United States are much more evenly split on the measure.

  • Unlike conservative Sens. Ted Cruz and Tom Coburn, some GOP senators are defending the inclusion of a national park expansion in the National Defense Authorization Act as a cost of doing business in Congress.

  • A National Journal analysis of new FEC reports suggests just how overconfident Democrats were in the weeks immediately before the midterms, giving away money to other candidates because they didn’t think they needed to spend it.

  • Even senior members of Congress who are leaving office this year are having to deal with the logistics of moving out while trying to wrap up legislative business. “I was over in Buck McKeon’s office when they were pulling out the wires to his computer and his phone,” Rep. Jim Moran told National Journal. “I was objecting — ‘Gosh, this is a guy who’s served for 38 years. He’s chairman of the Armed Service Committee. Can’t you give him a little slack?’ And the guy says, ‘Don’t worry, Congressman, we just did the same thing in your office.'”

  • Ann Compton writes about 40 years of covering the White House.

  • Keep an eye on the Rundown blog for breaking news throughout the day, our home page for show segments, and follow @NewsHour for the latest.

Editor’s note: This report has been updated from the original post. Rep. Jim Moran was quoted in the National Journal, not Jerry Moran, who is a U.S. Senator.


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