This Graph Illustrates Who Holds America’s $17 Trillion Debt – Including The One-Third Held By Foreign Countries


NPR may have had its reasons for putting together this grid explaining how the Nation’s $16.8 trillion is divvied up – it’s featured in a story that begins “If Congress doesn’t raise the debt ceiling soon, the U.S. government won’t be able to pay its debts” – but anyone who approaches the infographic with an open mind can come away with their own conclusions.


In some ways, the image reads like a history lesson in how the U.S. government grew to the bloated monstrosity that future generations will inherit. The Federal government (for NPR’s purposes, the Federal Reserve is included here) owns nearly half of U.S. debt, including $2.6 trillion in Social Security obligations. More than $1 trillion is tied up in Federal and military retirement funds and the Fed itself holds $2.1 trillion.

Many of these obligations stem from the decisions of previous Presidential Administrations and Congressional acts that instituted or expanded government programs – the Clinton-era manipulation of Social Security to keep the Federal budget balanced, not to mention the original creation of the Social Security program itself, are two of many examples.

Foreign banks and governments hold about $5.5 trillion in U.S. debt, amounting to nearly one-third of the $16.8 trillion total. As everyone knows, China holds the most financial sway with $1.3 trillion, followed closely by Japan with $1.1 trillion.

For some numeric perspective, the Federal debt increased an astronomical $4.89 trillion under President George W. Bush, and has increased $6.1 trillion more in the nearly five years that President Barack Obama has been in office. The Federal debt stood at $10.6 trillion when Bush left office.

As Obama continues to drive a hard bargain on insisting that Congressional Democrats get their way in raising the Federal debt limit, here’s Senator Barack Obama in 2006 condemning President Barack Obama’s present rhetoric on raising the debt ceiling:

The fact that we are here today to debate raising America’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the U.S. government can’t pay its own bills. … I therefore intend to oppose the effort to increase America’s debt limit.


Personal Liberty

Ben Bullard

Reconciling the concept of individual sovereignty with conscientious participation in the modern American political process is a continuing preoccupation for staff writer Ben Bullard. A former community newspaper writer, Bullard has closely observed the manner in which well-meaning small-town politicians and policy makers often accept, unthinkingly, their increasingly marginal role in shaping the quality of their own lives, as well as those of the people whom they serve. He argues that American public policy is plagued by inscrutable and corrupt motives on a national scale, a fundamental problem which individuals, families and communities must strive to solve. This, he argues, can be achieved only as Americans rediscover the principal role each citizen plays in enriching the welfare of our Republic.

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  • Karll


    “The fact that we are here today to debate raising America’s debt limit is a sign of LEADERSHIP FAILURE. It is a sign that the U.S. Government can’t pay its own bills. It is a sign that we now depend on ongoing financial assistance from foreign countries to finance our Government’s RECKLESS fiscal policies. Over the past 5 years, our federal debt has increased by $3.5 trillion to $8.6 trillion. That is ‘‘trillion’’ with a ‘‘T.’’ That is money that we have BORROWED from the Social Security trust fund, BORROWED from China and Japan, BORROWED from American taxpayers. And over the next 5 years, between now and 2011, the President’s budget will increase the debt by almost another $3.5 trillion”

    Sen Barack Hussein Obama (D-eranged) 2006

    This statement should be publicized 24/7 every time this clown insists on raising the debt limit.

    • vietnamvet1971

      O’ Blowhard is a LIAR and we know who the Father of LIES is (Satan) so his Daddy taught him well.

  • paendragon

    Funny – according to Warren Buffet’s movie, IOUSA, after China and the
    comes Canada and Mexico, as owners of the formerly Land of the
    Free. I wonder why we’re off this latest list – could it be that it would be too politically incorrect/embarrassing? What are you covering up here, Bullard?

  • Warrior

    The story doesn’t tell which pocket the SS Funds are in? Maybe we should ask dingy or newt or maybe bill? Oh right, that famous “clinton” budget “surplus”!

    • ONTIME

      Tax monies meant to pay for the entitlement SS are nothing more than a open checkbook to the government and it is never replaced…


    This description of the debt emphasizes the unaffordability of this government, this administration and the congress’s ineptitude that has worked mostly in tandem to create debt we cannot continue to afford, the size, scope and intrusion of government must now be curtailed, WTP are now going to butt heads with the left in order to institute term limits no retirement to stop the elitism and abuse of office, remove the government unions to bring down cost and make government affordable and use a ballot driven Nat’l Sales Tax to establish a working budget and stop over spending….we either make the effort to repair and reorganize or we lose this Republic…

  • Jim B

    Did I miss something or did the depiction come up short of the 17 Trillion by a few Trillion? In any event, this sucks! I suspect that China, through the other foreign countries owns more of our debt, we just can’t trace it back to them, yet! But, as of yesterday it’s all mute, we are going to keep piling on until complete and utter destruction, that is everything stops, and we are thrown back into a third world country status. And the latest study shows that we are ranked number 17 as one of the freest countries on the planet… 17th even though we invented it! The facts are the facts, the evidence is everywhere, our government is one great big screw up, and we just gave them some more rope to kill us all with!

  • Michael Shreve

    Somehow, mortgaging your nation seems like REALLY poor fiscal responsibility.