Donald Trump railed against rising government debt on the campaign trail, but we don’t know yet how he will tackle the problem as president. The debt lurks behind many issues on his plate, including Obamacare repeal, tax reform, defense spending, the border wall, and his upcoming budget. A vote on the statutory debt limit is also coming up.
Trump faces tough choices because President Barack Obama left him with a fiscal mess. A river of red ink under President George W. Bush turned into a torrent under Obama. Federal debt held by the public soared from $5.8 trillion in 2008 to $14.2 trillion in 2016. As a share of gross domestic product (GDP), the debt almost doubled from 39 percent to 77 percent.

Today’s debt-to-GDP ratio is the second highest in U.S. history, and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) expects it to keep on growing, as shown in the chart. Only the debt load during World War II was higher.
After WWII, federal debt plunged from 106 percent of GDP in 1946 to just 56 percent in 1955. You might assume that frugal budgeting by centrist Presidents Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower diffused the debt bomb, but that was not the case.