Stand up for the facts!
Our only agenda is to publish the truth so you can be an informed participant in democracy.
We need your help.
I would like to contribute
If Your Time is short
The federal debt goes up by a lot every 20 minutes, and if you look at averages, the increase over that period is more than four times higher than what Johnson said.
Newly elected House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., offered a downbeat statistic on the state of the nation’s finances in his first address as the House of Representatives’ presiding officer.
He called the national debt "unsustainable" and "the greatest threat to our national security."
"In the time it’s going to take me to deliver this speech," Johnson said from the speaker’s chair Oct. 25, "we’ll go up another $20 million in debt."
Johnson spoke for a little under 20 minutes.
There is no practical way to determine how much the debt rose during the literal 20-minute period when Johnson was speaking. And Johnson’s office noted that debt increases do not happen at a constant rate and are subject to the inflows and outflows of the federal treasury.
But we wondered how close Johnson might be, given what we do know, using the average rate of increase over the past year.
Calculated that way, the dollar amount is even bigger than what Johnson said.
The debt can be measured two ways: debt held by the public and gross federal debt, which includes public debt plus money that one part of the government owes another part of the government.
We calculated the annual increase of both kinds of debt broken up into 20-minute segments. Here’s how: There are three 20-minute segments in an hour, 72 20-minute segments in a day, and 26,280 20-minute segments in a 365-day year.
Over the past year, from Sept. 25, 2022, to Sept. 24, 2023, the public debt rose by $2.18 trillion. Over the same period, the gross federal debt rose by about $2.42 trillion.
If you divide those increases by the annual number of 20-minute increments, the public debt rose by about $83 million every 20 minutes while gross federal debt rose by almost $92 million over the same period.
Ultimately, Johnson is right that the debt goes up by a lot every 20 minutes, but, using averages, it appears he understated the amount by a factor of four.
We rate the statement Mostly True.
Mike Johnson, acceptance speech for speaker of the House, Oct. 25, 2023
U.S. Treasury Department, Debt to the Penny calculator, accessed Oct. 26, 2023
Statement from the office of Mike Johnson, Oct. 26, 2023
Read About Our Process
In a world of wild talk and fake news, help us stand up for the facts.