When it comes to the nation's debt, payback time might be here.
Years of low tax rates and rising federal spending, amplified by the devastating economic effect of the Great Recession, have driven the U.S. borrowing tab to more than $16 trillion from less than $1 trillion in 1981.
Deficit reduction has become the dominant issue in Washington. The first major tax increase since 1993 took place last month. And large automatic spending cuts — $1.2 trillion over the next decade — are set to kick in Friday.
The result: Average Americans are starting to feel the pain.
"The day of reckoning is here," said David Walker, the former U.S. comptroller general who has been warning about the nation's long-term fiscal problems for several years.
"We're at the end of an era where we have Democratic spending policies and Republican tax policies," he said. "The result has been huge deficits and mounting debt burdens. It doesn't work."