Paulson Plan May Push National Debt to Post-World War II Levels

Matthew Benjamin
Tuesday, Sept 23, 2008

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson's $700 billion proposal to stabilize the banking system may push the national debt to the highest level since 1954, threatening an erosion of foreign appetite for U.S. bonds.

The plan, which asks Congress for funds to buy devalued securities from financial institutions, would drive the debt above 70 percent of gross domestic product and the annual budget gap to an all-time high, possibly exceeding $1 trillion next year, economists estimated.

``This is sobering, absolutely sobering, even to someone who doesn't drink,'' said Stan Collender, a former analyst for the House and Senate budget committees, now at Qorvis Communications in Washington.

At risk for the world's largest economy: a jump in interest rates prompted by the glut of additional Treasuries needed to finance the plan, and a diminished desire among international investors to add to their holdings. The dollar yesterday slid the most against the euro since the European currency's 1999 introduction.

Paulson may be questioned on the borrowing impact of his plan at a hearing at the Senate Banking Committee today that begins at 9:30 a.m. He's asking lawmakers to lift the legal ceiling on the federal debt to a record $11.3 trillion from the current $10.6 trillion.

Treasuries fell in the past two trading days after Paulson signaled Sept. 18 a sweeping rescue was needed, with the 10-year note yield rising 29 basis points to 3.84 percent. The two-year note climbed 47 basis points on Sept. 19, the most in 23 years. A basis point is 0.01 percentage point.

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