The daunting tower of national, state and local debt in the United States will reach a level this year unmatched since just after World War II and already exceeds the size of the entire economy
, according to government estimates
But any similarity between 1946 and now ends there. The U.S. debt levels tumbled in the years after World War II, but today they are still climbing and even deep cuts in spending won't completely change that for several years.
As President Obama and Republicans squabble over whose programs to cut and which taxes to raise, slow growth and a rising tide of interest payments - largely beyond their control - are making the job of fixing the budget much harder than in the past. Statehouses and governors face similar challenges
After World War II, the federal debt - including debt purchased by the Social Security Trust Fund - hit nearly 122 percent of gross domestic product. State and municipal debt back then was minimal
. By the time Dwight Eisenhower was elected president six years later, the federal government's debt had dipped to about three-fourths of GDP.
Moreover, today state and municipal governments are also facing fiscal woes - another difference between now and the postwar era. State and municipal governments from Sacramento to Madison to Harrisburg have racked up about $2.4 trillion in debt, or more than 15 percent of GDP