Well the short answer, aka Faux News zero information viewer version is, "One. $16 trillion. The Chinese." Hard as it may be to believe for dKos members the answer is more complicated than that. So lets start with the easy parts, the Treasury Department web application that tracks total U.S. Public Debt to the Penny. Which if done on Friday Jan 18, 2013 would give you this:
Okay on inspection we can see that right on 30% or so of 'Total Public Debt' consists of 'Intragovernmental Holdings' at $4.8 trillion out of $16.4 tn. And what are 'Intragovernmental Holdings'? Well if we follow the link we find this:
What are Intragovernmental Holdings?Now of the scads of Government trust funds the largest ones include the two Social Security Trust Funds (OAS and DI) that together hold $2.6 trillion of that total $4.8 tn of 'Intragovernmental Holdings'. And here is the first important stopping point. The Economic Right likes to argue that Trust Fund assets are 'Phony IOUs' because the government can't owe money to itself. Okay for the sake of argument lets accept that argument. Which means we just cut $4.8 trillion off our 'real' Debt. Because you can't have your $16.4 trillion of debt and wave nearly $5 billion away as 'phony'. One or the other.
Intragovernmental Holdings are Government Account Series securities held by Government trust funds, revolving funds, and special funds; and Federal Financing Bank securities. A small amount of marketable securities are held by government accounts.
Okay we have now modified the answer of "how many forms of debt" to "two" and "how much" to "$11 trillion". How is that "Chinese" answer holding up? Well we can start with Treasury's Major Foreign Holders of Treasuries whose most recent iteration is here:
Now there are caveats here. One you could argue that you should add Hong Kong holdings to Mainland China and perhaps claim that large amounts of holdings officially held in Luxembourg, 'Caribbean Banking Centers', and the United Kingdom (which includes substantial off shore banking in the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands) are 'really' held by Chinese billionaires and banks. By that same token plenty of American billionaires and corporations are holding assets in those jurisdications, the claim that we owe our soul to the (Chinese) company store being a little hyperbolic.
Now things get really hairy and where I want to call for help from the finance people out there. Because holdings of Treasuries by the Federal Reserve are not counted as 'Intragovernmental Holdings' but instead as a component, and a huge component of 'Debt Held by the Public'. And those holdings of Treasuries alone (and not including Agency Debt) is publically claimed by the New York Fed at $1.6 trillion or 50% more than what is officially owed to the Chinese. And the Fed returns 'profits' to the Treasury and over the last few years has been systematically purchasing long bonds (with higher yields and so interest costs) while selling short bonds. Which seems to mean a couple of surprising things.
One if we total Governmental holdings of $4.8 trillion with Fed holdings of $1.6 trillion we are talking a pretty big chunk of that $16.4 trillion of 'Total Public Debt' actually being owed by the Federal Government to federal entities. With corresponding impacts on the real cost of debt service. Because unless I am missing something Treasury is pocketing a big share of that debt service on the back end via Fed rebates of its 'profits'.
Food for thought. And hopefully informed comment.