Debt is never good, yet with relation to GDP, it isn't as bad as it could be. There are plenty of countries with a worse debt to GDP then we have.
Our debt is in the form of bonds, sold in America and abroad. The reason so much of our debt is held by foreign investors is because of the stability of our economy, and government. If we had no federal debt, there would be no federal bonds. There are a lot of people who only invest in government bonds. Often these people are scared of the stock market.
Regardless it would be best if we were to cut spending to pay down this debt. It may not be necessary to pay it off, but I dislike it being so high myself. Emergencies, war, or attempts to slow or stop a recession are the only reasons there should be a deficit.
Interestingly there has been research showing a correlation between increases in taxes, and increases in Federal spending. If taxes are raised, Federal spending is increased at a greater rate.
In the 90's, Congress made a rule, not law, but a rule that they could not increase the budget by more then 3% a year. Interestingly this is when we had surpluses. (Also influenced by the capitol gains tax cut which produced a temporary large revenue increase, and a more permanent smaller revenue increase.)
The big problem is that the government is allowed to spend money they do not have. Tons of pork spending, government waste, and lining pockets.
Another problem is how short sighted the government is. They work mostly with a short term thought process, not thinking about what will happen in the long run. Basically the band aid approach. Fix it today, and don't worry about tomorrow.
This is the big problem with Social Security. Every time someone tries to fix it, it is only delaying the inevitable. The proper way to fix it is ridiculed by the ignorant who put out advertisements saying not to tear down the house when the house doesn't even exist. Currently it props up the budget, and buffers the actual effects. That really adds something like 1.22 trillion to the debt because that is what is supposed to be there, but conveniently does not exist because it was spent.
This problem really is inherent in our culture. How much debt do you have in relation to your annual income? Are you really better off then our government? Can you complain of your debt to income ratio is greater then the governments debt to GDP? The best way to change the government is to change ourselves. (As hokey as this sounds.)
There is a small, but growing group of people who are opposed to debt, or at least excessive debt. The idea of buying a car with cash is foreign to most people, and almost heresy. It is perfectly normal to go out to eat, put it on a credit card, and spend the next 5 years paying off that one meal. Why does anyone expect the government to act any differently?