The federal deficit is a number that has changed over the years. Between the years 2007 and 2009 the deficit increased from about $160billion to $1.6Billion. It has been drastically shrinking since then but not at a rate that would make everyone happy. Currently the deficit is the lowest since 2008.
The difference between the debt and the deficit is quite simple. The deficit is spending over the available revenue that is made up through borrowing of some verity.
There are a few ways that money is borrowed. First of all, it can be borrowed from countries like China by selling currency. This is not the only source of funds as many claim. Some funds are owed to other nations. Other funds are owed to the US in one way or another. This comes in the form of savings bonds for example. Another example is borrowing from programs like social security that run surpluses. Currently over $2trillion dollars is borrowed from Social Security.
The debt on the other hand is the cumulative effect of the deficit and interest on the debt. Servicing the debt alone costs over $200billion a year. If this kind of money were to be focused on other things we could have free education or better roads and high speed rail. It takes away the ability of the government to make the kinds of investment that is required to prosper in todays socioeconomic climate. Eventually something will have to be cut to make the budget work properly. On the surface getting it back in hand would be a good thing but any time there are cuts, someone ends up suffering. For every program there is a politician waiting to protect their pet project.
REPORTS. (2014, May 6). Government. Retrieved May 30, 2014, from http://www.treasurydirect.gov/govt/reports/ir/ir_expense.htm
Recent US Federal Deficit Numbers. (n.d.). US Federal Deficit Definition. Retrieved May 29, 2014, from http://www.usgovernmentspending.com/federal_deficit_chart.html
Weissmann, J. (2014, January 3). Here's Exactly How Much the Government Would Have to Spend to Make Public College Tuition-Free. The Atlantic. Retrieved May 30, 2014, from http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/01/heres-exactly-how-much-the-government-would-have-to-spend-to-make-public-college-tuition-free/282803/