The federal government is facing a deadline with the ability to pay its bills. Unless a new limit is authorized, the government will hit the debt ceiling, cutting off the government’s ability to borrow money to pay its existing bills. With the debt ceiling issue, the question is not one of whether the U.S. should add more debt or what it should spend, but instead it is a question of paying the nation’s existing debts. Many governments have faced similar situations in the past, and any discussion of large-scale finances often becomes very complex. The question of debt has a very long history.

Currently, the U.S. government owes $31.4 trillion. About one-fourth of this debt is what the government owes to itself, borrowing from various trust funds like Social Security. The rest, the “public debt” as it is called, is owed by various banks, state and local governments, corporations and individuals mostly in the form of bonds, essentially interest-bearing IOUs from the government which mature over time.

Dr. Ken Bridges is a Professor of History at South Arkansas Community College in El Dorado. He is the proud father of six children. He has written seven books and his columns appear in more than 85 papers in two states. Dr. Bridges can be contacted by email at