Trivia time: How many aircraft carriers does it take to balance the national debt on a scale? Conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan offered the answer in a Feb. 18 e-mail blast: "If you printed a $1 bill for the entirety of the $14.1 trillion national debt, the resulting pile of money would weigh more than 136 aircraft carriers," said the president of the free-market group Empower Texans.
Sullivan pointed us to the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Bureau of Engraving and Printing, which prints billions of dollars each year for the Federal Reserve. According to frequently-asked-questions page on the bureau's website, a U.S. note worth any amount — from $1 to a Benjamin — weighs one gram. About 454 grams equals a pound.
According to the Treasury Department’s Bureau of Public Debt, the total outstanding public debt as of Feb. 18 was about $14.1 trillion. So,14.1 trillion dollar bills weigh 14.1 trillion grams, or about 31 billion pounds.
At Sullivan’s suggestion, we checked the weight of the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier. According to the military’s Naval Vessel Register, there are a couple of ways to put the carrier on the scale. At its full displacement, including crew, cargo and ammunition, the USS Reagan weighs 98,235 long tons. That’s 220,046,400 pounds.
And 136 USS Reagans? About 30 billion pounds.
When the ship is ready for service but missing its crew and ammunition, among other variables, the Reagan weighs 77,607 long tons, or 173,839,680 pounds. Multiply by 136 and you’ve got nearly 24 billion pounds of empty aircraft carrier.
But what’s the point of an empty ship? We found that other aircraft carriers, fully loaded, weighed about the same. The USS George H. W. Bush weighs in the same as the Reagan, while the USS George Washington weighs 104,017 long tons at its full displacement. That’s 232,998,080 pounds.
That means 136 Washingtons weigh about 31.5 billion pounds — 500 million pounds more than the national debt. And the USS Harry S. Truman? They’re a svelte 101,378 long tons at full displacement, so it takes more than 136 of them to equal the the national debt.
Weighing in: The national debt in dollars totals more than 136 fully loaded USS Reagan, Bush and Truman aircraft carriers. Other carrier weights differ, but they’re in the ballpark. We rate Sullivan’s statement as True.