The federal government could soon pay more in interest on its debt than it spends on the military, Medicaid or children's programs.
The run-up in borrowing costs is a one-two punch brought on by the need to finance a fast-growing budget deficit, worsened by tax cuts and steadily rising interest rates that will make the debt more expensive.
With less money coming in and more going toward interest, political leaders will find it harder to address pressing needs like fixing crumbling roads and bridges or to make emergency moves like pulling the economy out of future recessions.
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Within a decade, more than $900 billion in interest payments will be due annually, easily outpacing spending on myriad other programs. Already the fastest-growing major government expense, the cost of interest is on track to hit $390 billion next year, nearly 50 percent more than in 2017, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
"It's very much something to worry about," said C. Eugene Steuerle, a fellow at the Urban Institute and a co-founder of the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center in Washington. "Everything else is getting squeezed."
Gradually rising interest rates would have made borrowing more expensive even without additional debt. But the tax cuts passed late last year have created a deeper hole, with the deficit increasing faster than expected. A budget bill approved in February that raised spending by $300 billion over two years will add to the financial pressure.
The deficit is expected to total nearly $1 trillion next year — the first time it has been that big since 2012, when the economy was still struggling to recover from the financial crisis and interest rates were near zero.