So here’s a quick primer, courtesy of some calculations from the Institute for Truth in Accounting.
Our REPORTED federal debt is $15.5 trillion. That includes $10.8 trillion in public debt…money used to run basic government operations … and $5 trillion in trust fund debt for things like highway work and airports.
The $15.5 trillion number is what gets thrown around most in political debate and coverage.
But there is a bunch of government spending commitments NOT included in that $15.5 trillion number. These include almost $6 trillion in expected retirement benefits for federal employees and veterans, $8 trillion in Social Security benefits that will come due, and the biggie…. $37 trillion in Medicare benefits.
Thanks to various government accounting rules, these numbers don’t get included in the main number until they actually come due. It strikes me that's a little like only counting your car payment, rather than the whole car loan, as your debt load. But better minds than I come up with these rules.
Check out the chart: