President Obama said that the U.S. does not have to “worry” about its $16 trillion debt in the “short term.” He also could not “remember” what the nation’s total debt figures were when he entered office.
“I don’t know remember what the number was precisely,” Obama told talk show host David Letterman during an interview.
Letterman asked him if Americans should be “scared” of the trillions of dollars it owes to other countries.
“A lot of it we owe to ourselves. Because if you invest in a treasury bill or something like that then essentially you’re loaning the government money. In fact, the majority of it is held by folks who live here, but we don’t have to worry about it short term,” Obama responded.
“Right now interest rates are low because people still consider the United States the safest and greatest country on earth, rightfully so, but it is a problem long term and even medium-term and so we’re going to have to take care of this debt and deficit, but we’ve got to do it in a balanced way.”
Some Republicans including House Budget Chairman and Republican vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan have accused the president of passing on too much debt to future generations.
“I would argue that President Obama is bringing us toward this government-centered society. He is putting his trust in government and this is a trust that puts us down the path of debt and decline,” Ryan said.
According to U.S. Treasury data, foreign investors hold $5.35 trillion or approximately 48 percent of America’s total public debt. When President George W. Bush took office the total public debt stood at $5.7 trillion. When President Obama entered office after Bush’s 8 years as president, the debt was $10.6 trillion. It has since surpassed $16 trillion.
Letterman asked Obama about the numbers shown on national debt clock featured at the Republican National Convention.
“Well, here’s what happened. We had a surplus when Bill Clinton was president…it was projected to continue to be a surplus. We decided to launch two wars on a credit card,” Obama said.
“We cut taxes twice without finding offsetting costs for it or ways to pay for it, a prescription drug plan and then we had a massive recession. When I walked into office we had a trillion dollar deficit, debt had mounted and then we had to take a bunch of emergency measures, that cost money, saving the auto industry, making sure that the financial system got back on track.”
Obama said the U.S. has to “pare down that deficit and get that debt under control” in “a balanced way” which would include raising taxes on families making over $250,000 per year.