A sea of red ink is confronting the nation and presidents to come.
The budget deficit — the shortfall created when the government spends more in a given year than it collects — is on track to top $1 trillion for the fourth straight year. The government borrows about 40 cents for every dollar it spends.
The national debt is the total amount the federal government owes. It's risen to a shade over $16 trillion.
Obama has proposed bringing deficits down by slowing spending gradually, to avoid suddenly tipping the economy back into recession. He'd raise taxes on households earning more than $250,000 and impose a surcharge of 30 percent on those making more than $1 million. Romney would lower deficits mostly through deep spending cuts. But many of the cuts he's pushing would be partially negated by his proposals to lower top tax rates on corporations and individuals.
Chairman of the Republican National Committee Reince Priebus announces the display of the debt ticker during the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Monday, Aug. 27, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)