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Next president faces swelling U.S. debt

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Sen. Kent Conrad (D) of North Dakota, who chairs the Senate Budget Committee, shot back: "[Republicans] are the architects of the economic fiasco that has brought us to where we are at this moment," he said.

"Under their watch and under their control, we have a housing crisis, an energy crisis, a health care crisis, and a fiscal crisis," Mr. Conrad said. "This is a combination of mismanagement that will take years to undo."

What's driving deficits is "an unusual amount of turbulence" in the US economy this year, including depressed housing markets, fragile financial markets, and soaring prices for energy and food, along with the cost of war, according to the CBO. But the biggest long-term threat is rising health care costs and the retirement of the "baby boom" generation.

"As we have said over and over in the past, the nation is on an unsustainable long-term fiscal course driven primarily by rising health care costs," said CBO director Peter Orszag at a briefing on Tuesday. "And that does need to be addressed before a crisis hits,"

One of the first decisions a new president will have to make is whether or not to extend President Bush's tax cuts, now set to expire in 2010.

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