Debt and Deficits
Updated September 10, 2014
What's the difference between debt and deficit? The Bureau of the Public Debt website defines deficit as "the fiscal year difference between what the U.S. Government takes in from taxes and other revenues...and the amount of money the Government spends" and defines debt as "accumulated deficits plus accumulated off-budget surpluses."
What does the "fiscal cliff," a combination of tax increases and spending cuts, mean for deficit reduction? The CFR.org Backgrounder on What Is the Fiscal Cliff? explains that the fiscal cliff will "automatically slash the federal budget deficit by $503 billion between FY 2012 and FY 2013," based on Congressional Budget Office data.
Research Links on Debt and Deficits are divided into:
History, Background, and Research Guides
History of public debt in the United States and research guides on the debt ceiling and current federal budget debate. See related publications in CFR's Renewing America: Debt and Deficits, CFR.org's Backgrounder on U.S. Deficits and the National Debt.
- Bureau of the Public Debt: Public Debt History
1700s, 1800s, World Wars, Postwar, Today; timeline of saving bonds.
- Center on Budget and Policy Priorities: Understanding the Federal Budget Debate
Policy basics; three charts to explain stabilizing the debt, discretionary spending, and Bowles-Simpson; subtopic pages on Congressional Action, Deficits and Projections, President's Budget, Process; related blog posts and new publications
- Concord Coalition: National Debt
Backgrounders, weekly Budget Report updates, blog posts, data indicators. Other issue guides include: Budget Process, Discretionary Spending, Federal Budget, Fiscal Commissions, Health Care, National Defense, Social Security, Tax Policy.
- Congressional Research Service Reports: "Reaching the Debt Limit: Background and Potential Effects on Government Operations"
- Government Accountability Offices: Overview: Federal Debt and Fiscal Outlook
Measuring debt and deficit; report includes charts, analysis, with state and local perspectives. Related reports, issues, and links.
- Khan Academy: Deficit and Debt Ceiling
See also: Government's Financial Condition. From series of free short online education videos.
- National Debt Clock
Provides sources for data on total debt and revenue, largest budget items, money creation, trade numbers, state and world debt clocks. "About" includes history of money and banking.
- NYTimes: Q&A on Debt Ceiling
- Our Fiscal Security: Understanding the Federal Deficit and the National Debt
"What You Need to Know," with links to original sources, related research and headlines. Other fact sheets include: Investing in America, Truth on Taxes, Jobs and Recovery, Social Security: Built to Last.
- PBS: America's Historical Struggle With Debt and the Role of Federal Government
- Treasury Department: Debt Limit Initiative
Publications, hearings, letters on debt limit
Data, Polls, and Surveys
See also section on Ratings Agencies.
- Bloomberg: Government Bonds
Treasury Yields, Federal Reserve Rates, Municipal Bond
- Bureau of Economic Analysis: Interactive Data
GDP & personal income, GDP by industry, international interactions.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Federal Government receipts and expenditures
1990, 2000, 2010, and projected 2020
- Census Bureau: Economic Census
(2012) economic census profiles U.S. national and local economies every 5 years; forms go out to more than 4 million businesses
- Congressional Budget Office: Budget Data and Technical Information
Includes historical, monthly, outlook, cost estimates, and debt.
- Department of Commerce: Economics & Statistics Administration - Economic Indicators
12 monthly indicators, including retail, construction, current account balance, manufacturing, trade balance.
- Office of Management and Budget: Historical Tables
(Generally 1940 or earlier to 2013 or 2017) budget receipts, outlays, surpluses or deficits, Federal debt, and Federal employment. OMB site includes Analytical Perspectives
- Pew Research Center: Debt and Deficit Key Data Points
- Treasury Department: Public Debt Reports
Data on who holds debt, historical, monthly, and daily updates, 1791 to present. More in "Charts & Analysis" menu tab.
- Wall Street Journal: Charting the Debt Debate
Debt Load, Collision Course, Liquid Courage
U.S. Government Agencies and Publications
State and Local Budgets
- Census Bureau: State and Local Government Finances
State and local revenues, expenditures, and debt. See also Census data on public retirement systems (Annual Survey of Public Pensions: State & Local Data.)
- Center for Budget and Policy Priorities: State Budget and Tax
Includes overview, news, policy basics.
- Center for Retirement Research at Boston College
Briefs, research reports, and working papers on Social Security, state and local pensions, health and long-term care, financing retirement, and older workers. Other features include interactive tools for tracking retirement preparedness and financial secu
- National Association of State Budget Officers
Aggregates analyses of state budget performance and publishes fiscal surveys and issue briefs. Resources include proposed and enacted budgets, office directory, and related associations.
- National Conference of State Legislators: Budget and Tax
Hot Topics page includes state budget update, closing budget gaps, state economic stimulus plans, and unemployment and personal taxes.
- National League of Cities: Finance
Produces City Fiscal Conditions and other research reports, and supports CitiesSpeak blog.
- Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government: State and Local Finance
Includes articles on issues like fiscal trends, state revenue reports, data, education finance, healthcare finance.
- Pew Center on the States: Retirement
Subtopics include Pensions and Retiree Health Care.
- State Fiscal Analysis Initiative
"Nonpartisan, independent, nonprofit organizations in each of 40 states and the District of Columbia. They share a commitment to rigorous policy analysis, responsible budget and tax policies, and a particular focus on the needs of low- and moderate-income
See also section on Ratings Agencies.
- Bank for International Settlements
Websites and speeches of central banks around the world, research on monetary and financial stability, and statistics on external debt, banking, securities, derivatives, exchange rates, property prices.
- The Economist: World Debt Clock
- International Monetary Fund: Historical Public Debt database
- Joint External Debt Hub
Compiles data from BIS, IMF, OECD, and World Bank on "components of countries' external debt and selected foreign assets."
- OECD: Public Debt Management
Topics include sovereign borrowing, sovereign debt, financial market trends. See also topic page on private pensions.
- World Bank: Central government debt
Historical and country comparisons.
Organizations and Publications
- American Enterprise Institute: Policy Studies, Economics
- Bipartisan Policy Center: Economic Policy Project
Project to illustrate the unsustainability of current federal fiscal policy, to demonstrate the consequences of inaction, and to create a path toward a comprehensive fiscal plan to spur economic growth and also stabilize the nation’s debt trajectory.
- Brookings Institution Research Topics: Fiscal Policy and the Fiscal Cliff
Commentary, testimony, blog posts. Subtopics: Federal Budget, Taxes, State and Local Finance, Earned Income Tax Credit, U.S. Budget Deficit, Domestic Discretionary Spending, Estate Tax, Debt Limit Debate, Tax Reform, Corporate Taxes, U.S. Deficit Reductio
- Campaign to Fix the Debt
- Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
- Concord Coalition
"Dedicated to educating the public about the causes and consequences of federal budget deficits, the long-term challenges facing America's unsustainable entitlement programs, and how to build a sound economy for future generations."
- Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget
Main organization for U.S. Budget Watch, Peterson-Pew Commission, Stimulus.org, Fiscal Roadmap, Moment of Truth, and Go Big. Interactive tools, like Budget Simulator (compare provisions of deficit reduction programs) and Comparison Grid (compare fiscal pl
- Institute for Truth in Accounting
"To compel government to produce financial reports that are understandable, reliable, transparent and correct."
- National Bureau for Economic Research: saved search in publications for "debt"
- Our Fiscal Security
Collaboration of Demos, Economic Policy Institute, and the Century Foundation
- Peterson Institute for International Economics: U.S. Current Account Deficit
Essential Reading from the Peterson Institute. Related hot topics: Global Financial Crisis and U.S. Debt
Government Revenue and Expenditure