US security chief calls national debt 'a dire threat'

Key Points
  • The national debt ranks among some of the most serious threats to the U.S., National Security Director Dan Coats said Tuesday.
  • Coats spoke to the Senate Intelligence Committee about a debt level that has ballooned to $20.7 trillion.
  • Total debt is now nearly 105 percent of GDP, near the highest level since World War II.
Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Dan Coats testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, February 13, 2018.
Aaron P. Bernstein | Reuters

Among the myriad threats to national security — North Korea, Russia and Iran among them — is one very big economic issue, National Intelligence Director Daniel Coats said Tuesday.

Speaking to the Senate Intelligence Committee, Coats said the nation's debt, up to $20.7 trillion and likely to escalate due to recently passed fiscal measures in Congress, must be taken seriously.

"The failure to address our long-term fiscal situation has increased the national debt to over $20 trillion and growing," he said during a broader hearing over dangers posed to the U.S. "This situation is unsustainable as I think we all know, and represents a dire threat to our economic and national security."

The debt has increased 123 percent over the past decade as the nation sought to break free of the financial crisis and the tepid growth that followed.

Total debt is now nearly 105 percent of gross domestic product, just shy of its highest level since World War II. The most recent Congressional Budget Office projections have the trajectory leading to a debt-to-GDP ratio of 150 percent by 2047, well past the point where financial crises typically occur.

In addition, the budget deficit is likely to swell, with the CBO projecting an increase from 2.9 percent of GDP in 2017 to 9.8 percent in 2047.

Congress in December passed a tax reform measure likely to cost $1.5 trillion and earlier in the week reached a budget plan that raises spending limits by about $300 billion over the next two years.