No politician runs for office promising to be fiscally irresponsible, but the federal government now finds itself trillions of dollars in debt. Americans would prefer the federal government have less debt, but the problem doesn't seem to affect their day-to-day lives and thus gets lost in the constant churn of the political news cycle.
But just how wide-reaching is the federal debt problem? How does it compare to other countries, and how much do we owe to foreign governments? Who would do a better job at reducing the debt: Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump?
Here are eight facts that answer those questions and show just how big the problem is:
1.) $19.4 trillion
The federal government will be $19.4 trillion in debt by the end of the year, according to estimates from the White House Office of Management and Budget.
Almost 73 percent of the debt is owed to "the public," a vague term that includes any debt owed to people or institutions outside the federal government, including individuals, businesses and state, local or foreign governments. The rest is any debt or surpluses held by specific government accounts, such as the Social Security Trust Fund.
As of March, about $6.3 trillion of the federal debt was owed to foreign governments. About one-fifth of that, $1.3 trillion, is owed to China. Slightly less, $1.1 trillion, is owed to Japan.
Every other country is far behind, with Japan owing at least four times as much as the next largest lender, the Cayman Islands. Both China and Japan are owed slightly less now than they were a year ago, but the combined total of foreign-held debt has risen. From March 2015-March 2016, the amount of federal debt owed to foreign governments rose by $114 billion.
2.) $210 trillion
Using alternative accounting methods, at least two economists put the real level of federal debt at $210 trillion, almost 11 times higher than the $19.4 trillion estimated by the White House.
In a June 2015 working paper published by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, Laurence Kotlikoff and Adam Michel estimated the federal debt including how much debt the government is projected to take on in the future, rather than how much debt the government has right now.
"The U.S. government has a long-standing habit of understating the severity of its fiscal condition, because estimators weigh fiscal sustainability over limited time periods," Kotlikoff and Michel wrote. "When measured properly — over an infinite time horizon — the difference between all projected future government spending and all projected future government revenue and resources over time is $210 trillion."
The pair warned against kicking the can down the road and ignoring the federal debt problem. "Delaying the adjustment only increases the magnitude of the burden and shifts more of it onto future generations."
The $19.4 trillion federal debt sounds large, but it's hard to break down its impact to the individual level. According to the Census Bureau, the U.S. population at the end of 2016 should be 326.6 million. If you divide the $19.4 trillion federal debt by the population, everyone living in the U.S. owes $59,510.
Americans generally view the growing national debt as a problem, but not a day-to-day issue in their lives. According to Gallup, 5 percent of Americans say the federal budget deficit and debt are the most important problem facing the country. Although that portion is small, it's actually tied for the fifth most-commonly cited problem.
At a March 2015 event, House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price, R-Ga., talked about the everyday effects of the national debt. "All of the things the American people want to do are harmed by an increasing federal debt," Price said. "It's a dollar that can't be used to buy a home, to pay your rent, to buy a car, to pay education fees."
4.) 105 percent
It's easy to look at the federal debt in 1940 — $51 billion, $383 per person — and wonder what went wrong.
But the most accurate way to compare federal debt across time is not by looking at raw totals, but federal debt as a percentage of the gross domestic product, the most common number used to measure the size of the economy. When 2016 comes to a close, the federal government's debt as a percentage of GDP will be 105 percent, meaning the gross federal debt is larger than the country's entire annual economy.
This is the only time that has happened outside of a world war. In 1940, debt as a percent of GDP was 52 percent. In 1946, that figure reached a record high of 119 percent. The debt slowly dropped until reaching a low point at the end of President Reagan's first year in office at 32 percent.
In terms of debt held by the public, debt as a percentage of GDP peaked at 106 percent. Today, it's only 75 percent of GDP, but the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projects it will rise to 122 percent of GDP by 2040.
5.) 7 percent
As of 2016, 7 percent of the federal budget is spent on net interest — money the government spends just because the federal debt is so large.
By 2040, net interest is projected to rise to 18 percent of the federal budget. That's 11 percentage points more that has to be spent paying off the national debt and 10 percentage points less to spend on everything else in the federal budget: national defense, welfare programs, entitlement programs, etc.
Discretionary spending, including military spending, will shrink from 31 percent of the federal budget to 19 percent in the next decade.
No matter how you slice it, the rising federal debt means more taxpayer dollars dedicated solely to paying off that debt and less for federal government programs.
6.) 65 percent
What's driving the debt? There's no simple answer, but a lot of the problem is mandatory spending — spending that occurs on autopilot thanks to previous legislation.
That includes some of the government's largest programs, such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. But it also includes some smaller programs, like food stamps and unemployment insurance.
Mandatory programs already take up about 62 percent of every dollar the federal government spends, but that portion will rise to 65 percent by 2026. That's largely driven by nearly $1 trillion in new healthcare spending. Mandatory healthcare programs will rise from 28 percent to 32 percent of the federal budget over the next decade.
Social Security has its own problems, but its outlays will only rise from 23 percent of the budget to 25 percent. In that period, the 7 percentage-point rise in interest on the debt doesn't help either, but mandatory spending increases are widely seen as the biggest problems.
7.) 129 percent
If Donald Trump is elected president and Congress went along with all his proposals, federal debt held by the public would rise from 74 percent of GDP today to 129 percent of GDP in 10 years. Hillary Clinton, for comparison, would increase publicly held debt to 86 percent of GDP.
The nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget made debt projections using campaign proposals from many of the presidential primary contenders. If Bernie Sanders were elected president, his campaign proposals would double federal debt held by the public to 156 percent of GDP.
As far as the national debt is concerned, the most expensive part of Trump's campaign proposals are his income tax cuts. Trump's proposals would increase the debt by $12.1 trillion, with about $9.3 trillion of that increase coming from tax cuts. The costliest parts of Clinton's proposals are her debt-free college proposal and her expanded paid family leave proposal, which would each cost $350 billion over a decade.
8.) 228 percent
How does the U.S. debt situation compare internationally? Japan has the worst federal debt as a percentage of GDP: 228 percent. That's only debt held by the public, so its true debt picture is even worse. Zimbabwe is second worst, at 205 percent. Greece, with its notoriety for debt problems, is third worst at 171 percent.
Of the 178 countries that the CIA has debt data on, the United States' 74 percent of GDP is 39th worst. By this metric, the U.S. manages to beat several of its international rivals, including France, Italy, Canada and the United Kingdom. But many other countries you would think have worse debt situations than the U.S. actually do better: Brazil, China, Iran, Libya, Mexico, Sudan and even Vietnam.
That list of countries shows it's possible to keep government debt under control even when a nation's economy isn't thriving. Clearly, the U.S. debt problem isn't happening because Congress doesn't know what's going on. The question is, what are they going to do about it, and when?
Jason Russell is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.