Center for American Progress Action

With Debt Limit Vote Approaching, Deficit Peacocks Are Sure To Squawk About The Debt They Caused
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With Debt Limit Vote Approaching, Deficit Peacocks Are Sure To Squawk About The Debt They Caused

By Michael Linden

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Today, the House of Representatives will vote on increasing the nation’s debt limit. Presumably, this will spur conservatives and deficit peacocks to claim that President Barack Obama has gone on some kind of spending binge and has run up tons and tons of new debt. Despite these claims, the truth is that only a tiny fraction of our current debt burden is due to actions taken by President Obama.

On the day President Obama was inaugurated, publicly held debt was $6.3 trillion. Today it is $7.8 trillion. But, of course, pinning that entire $1.5 trillion increase on President Obama would be incredibly dishonest since Obama was handed a massive budget shortfall. After all, the Congressional Budget Office was projecting a deficit of $1.2 trillion for fiscal year 2009 even before Obama was sworn in. To blame the current administration for all the new debt accrued last year is to deliberately ignore that inconvenient fact.

But it is also true that President Obama did take actions that increased the deficit and therefore incurred additional debt. President Obama signed a 2009 omnibus appropriations act that increased nondefense discretionary spending by about $30 billion (with more than a third of that increase going to veterans’ health programs and international affairs) and a defense budget that increased spending by about $36 billion.

He also signed a reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which increased spending by $1 billion. And of course, he supported and signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment act which resulted in $112 billion in additional spending, and $88 billion in tax cuts. All together, President Obama’s actions led to $267 billion worth of new debt in fiscal year 2009.

On October 1, 2009, fiscal year 2010 started, and since then we’ve amassed another $300 billion in debt. While it is probably unfair to ascribe even all of this debt to President Obama given the economic conditions and the lingering budgetary damage from the Bush administration, for simplicity’s sake, let’s go ahead and do so anyway. All together then, President Obama is responsible for less than $600 billion of our current tally of publicly held debt. That’s less than 8 percent of the total.

It’s worth noting that a much larger percentage of our current debt was run up under President Bush. During his eight years in office, publicly held debt went from $3.3 trillion at the start of fiscal year 2002 (his first full fiscal year in office) to $6.3 trillion on the day he left office. That $3 trillion was the largest increase in publicly held debt under a single president in the history of the United States, and accounts for nearly 40 percent of our current total.

That’s why it’s the very definition of peacockery for Republican senators to vote against raising the debt limit (as 39 of them did last week) claiming to be all for fiscal discipline, when it was a Republican president who got us here.

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Michael Linden is the Associate Director for Tax and Budget Policy at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.