Deficit fears are nothing new: Red ink has been a staple of political dispute since the Great Depression.

After relative fiscal health during the nation's first 142 years, deficits rose sharply in 1918 ($9 billion) and 1919 ($13.3 billion). After that, surpluses resumed until the Great Depression, when deficits returned and remained on through World War II. From 1932 onward, deficits were nearly constant, growing year by year, until President Bill Clinton finally balanced the budget and ushered in consecutive surpluses from 1998 to 2001.

Now, the red ink is back, and as Congress debates federal spending levels, both sides agree current deficits are unsustainable.

Below, a look back at deficit fears throughout American history:

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