What is the US national debt, and how does it affect the economy?

Japan is currently the biggest holder of US debt, followed by China

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U.S. national debt is surging because of the historic spending enacted by Congress to battle the economic fallout triggered by the coronavirus pandemic.

The Treasury Department plans to borrow $2.9 trillion from April through June to cover the government's response to the virus outbreak, which brought the nation's economy to a near standstill in mid-March. By comparison, the agency borrowed $1.28 trillion for the entirety of 2019.

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Currently, the national debt -- which measures what the U.S. owes its creditors -- is about $25 trillion.

The federal government regularly spends more than it collects -- the difference is known as the deficit -- and adds billions to the national debt each year as a result. Top expenses that contribute to the skyrocketing debt including Medicare and Medicaid, Social Security and the nation's defense budget. Cutting taxes, which reduces the government's revenue, also contributes to a debt increase.

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It pays for those deficits by issuing Treasury notes and bonds. Japan is currently the biggest holder of U.S. debt, with about $1.27 trillion in Treasury holdings. It's followed by China, at $1.11 trillion.

Proponents of keeping the debt low, frequently referred to as budget hawks, argue that it can hurt the economy's stability, with broader ramifications for employment, trade and the strength of the U.S. dollar.

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