The Treasury Department confirmed this week that the national debt has surpassed $15 trillion -- that's 15, followed by 12 zeros -- a milestone Republicans have latched on to for a fresh attack on President Obama's fiscal management.
The timing could not be more conspicuous, with less than a week left before the super committee's deadline and no deficit-reduction plan in sight. A leading Senate Republican said Thursday his party continues to wait for a counteroffer from Democrats, and charged that Obama has been "AWOL" in the discussion.
"Even now, while they're up against the final deadline on this super committee, the president is nowhere to be found, traveling abroad," Sen. John Thune said on a conference call organized by the Republican National Committee.
GOP negotiators have proposed $250 billion in new tax revenue over 10 years, a particular point Thune said made "a lot of Republicans uncomfortable." Democrats have called the proposal insufficient.
"I am still hopeful Republicans will see their way to bring to us a real revenue package — and that's what all of us are looking for in terms of fair and balanced," Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, the super committee co-chairwoman, said after a meeting of Democrats on Wednesday.
Tied to the new debt total, the RNC launched a web video (see below) highlighting previous Obama statements on the issue as a candidate.
In one speech, in July 2008, Obama noted, "We now have over $9 trillion of debt. … That's irresponsible. That's unpatriotic." Weeks after taking office, he promised to cut the federal deficit in half, which the RNC dubs "another broken promise."
The federal deficit for the 2011 fiscal year was $1.3 trillion. Since Obama took office, the national debt has climbed more than 41%.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry issued a statement Wednesday calling the $15-trillion figure "astounding," and promoted his new plan to dramatically downsize the federal government.
"Now more than ever, America needs leadership committed to overhauling Washington," he said.
Democrats point to an analysis that says the Bush tax cuts account for half of the nation's projected debt through 2019.