Dem bill cuts trillions in debt by counting it differently

"No longer will debt owed from one branch of our government to another be considered the same as debt held by foreign governments, banks, pension funds, and other entities," he said Tuesday.

"They are accounting techniques, not debts," he added.

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Hastings said that according to the Congressional Budget Office, about $11.9 trillion in debt is held by the public, and $4.8 trillion is held by government accounts. Ignoring that latter amount would put the national debt at about $12 trillion instead of nearly $17 trillion.

Hastings's bill also revives an idea that was brought up two years ago by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). It would give the president the authority to raise the debt ceiling on his own, without getting approval from Congress.

Hastings said these two changes are needed to avoid the problems seen this month, during which Congress has struggled to find a way to extend the government's ability to borrow.

"Democrats and Republicans must come together before then to act or risk a global economic catastrophe," he said Tuesday. "This is exactly where we were just two years ago, and where we will be again in the near future if we do not take any steps to reform the way in which we calculate and consider our nation's debt."