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No End in Sight to Federal Debt

With the news this week that the next president will begin his term facing a record federal budget deficit, it's clear that the national debt, which has been climbing steadily since 2001, isn't about to slow down any time soon.

The 2009 deficit forecast — a cool $490 billion — is certainly nothing to laugh at. But it looks rather paltry next to the roughly $9.5 trillion that make up the total federal debt — a testament to the fact that money problems have plagued presidents since the country's beginnings.

Economic booms briefly halted increases in the national debt in the 1920s and 1990s. President Clinton made a triumphant statement on the "record budget surpluses" left by his administration in 2000. But it was Andrew Jackson who vowed in his 1829 inaugural address to "extinguish" the federal debt, and he made good on that promise to become the first — and only — president to fully balance the budget and pay the national debt in full.

With the record deficit trapped on a one-way street, it's unlikely he'll be challenged for the title any time in the near future.