The amount of money the federal government owes to its creditors, combined with IOUs to government retirement and other programs, now tops $15.23 trillion.
That's roughly equal to the value of all goods and services the U.S. economy produces in one year: $15.17 trillion as of September, the latest estimate. Private projections show the economy likely grew to about $15.3 trillion by December — a level the debt is likely to surpass this month.
"The 100% mark means that your entire debt is as big as everything you're producing in your country," says Steve Bell of the Bipartisan Policy Center, which has proposed cutting nearly $6 trillion in red ink over 10 years. "Clearly, that can't continue."
Long-term projections suggest the debt will continue to grow faster than the economy, which would have to expand by at least 6% a year to keep pace.
President Obama's 2012 budget shows the debt soaring past $26 trillion a decade from now. Last summer's deficit reduction deal could reduce that to $24 trillion.