(CNBC) — The soaring national debt has reached a symbolic tipping point: It's now as big as the entire U.S. economy.
The amount of money the federal government owes to its creditors, combined with IOUs to government retirement and other programs, now tops $15.23 trillion.
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That's roughly equal to the value of all goods and services the U.S. economy produces in one year: $15.17 trillion as of September, the latest estimate. Private projections show the economy likely grew to about $15.3 trillion by December — a level the debt is likely to surpass this month.
"The 100% mark means that your entire debt is as big as everything you're producing in your country," says Steve Bell of the Bipartisan Policy Center, which has proposed cutting nearly $6 trillion in red ink over 10 years. "Clearly, that can't continue."