The Campaign Spot

The National Debt Was Growing, Even Before George W. Bush

A common tactic of Obama and his defenders is to suggest that the debt and deficit were non-issues until the presidency of George W. Bush.

Obama in Annandale yesterday:

For a long time, Washington acted like deficits didn’t matter. A lot of folks promised us a free lunch. So I think everybody needs to recall, we had a surplus back in 2000, 11 short years ago, but then we cut taxes for everybody, including millionaires and billionaires. We fought two wars and we created a new and expensive prescription drug program, and we didn’t pay for any of it.

But it’s worth noting that the national debt – as in the total public debt owed – increased on Clinton’s watch, and like all recent presidents, Clinton left the country with more than a trillion dollars deeper in debt than when he began — even with the late 1990s economic boom.

According to U.S. Treasury figures at Debt to the Penny, on January 20, 1993, as Bill Clinton took office, the total outstanding public debt was $4.1 trillion. On January 19, 2001, that same figure had increased to $5.7 trillion.

As I’ve noted before, the debt during Bush’s eight years in office increased from $5.7 trillion to $10.6 trillion, or $4.9 trillion over eight years. That’s bad; that’s basically $610 billion per year. But in the less than three years Obama has been in office, the debt has increased from $10.6 trillion to $14.2 trillion, a $3.6 trillion increase in about 27 months.  In other words, Obama is increasing the debt by $1.6 trillion per year, three times as fast as Bush.

Bush’s record on increasing the national debt is bad and Obama’s is worse. Clinton’s record is “best,” but it’s not clear that most Americans would characterize increasing the national debt by $200 billion per year as “good.”

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