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First Seven Budgets: Bush Debt up 73%, Obama Debt up 63%

Listening to the Thune/Williams debate replay on South Dakota Public Radio, I hear Senator Thune echo his Presidential nominee’s gripe that President Obama has doubled the national debt.

Let’s be particular: the debt when President Obama took office was $10.63 trillion. The U.S. Debt Clock says that today it’s $19.65 trillion. That’s 1.85 times President Obama’s starting debt.

To put Senator Thune’s slight exaggeration in context, President George W. Bush started his Presidency with $5.73 trillion in debt. Over his two terms, the national debt increased by a factor of 1.86. President Obama will exceed that figure.

To compare apples to apples, let’s match Bush to Obama over their first seven budgets. From the end of FY2001 to the end of FY2008, the national debt increased 72.6%. From the end of FY2009 to the end of FY2016, the national debt increased 62.9%.

So, depending on where you start counting, the debt growth for which Senator Thune is criticizing President Obama is pretty much the same fiscal performance that his friend President Bush produced.


  1. Leo 2016-10-14 12:53

    Cory, I seem to recall that the first increase in the Obama debt was adding in the costs of the Iraq War which were not reflected/counted/put on the books in the exiting Bush debt. Am I wrong?

  2. mike from iowa 2016-10-14 13:06

    Obie has been saddled with unpaid for wars and a prescription drug plan that was estimated,at that time, to cost 400 billion. The entire cost has been dumped on taxpayers and wingnuts still won’t allow price shopping to protect drug company profits.

  3. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-10-14 13:37

    Leo, you may be thinking of bookkeeping changes that President Obama adopted in 2009 to make budget projections more honest. Those changes would not have affected actual debt. But there may be some other bookkeeping issue that related to what you’re talking about. Readers, can you help?

  4. Porter Lansing 2016-10-14 14:55

    The financial position of the United States includes assets of at least $269.6 trillion (1576% of GDP) and debts of $145.8 trillion (852% of GDP) to produce a net worth of at least $123.8 trillion (723% of GDP) as of Q1 2014. GDP represents the monetary value of all goods and services produced within a nation’s geographic borders over a specified period of time.
    ~ USA doesn’t have a debt crisis. Far from it. That’s a fabrication from Republicans who want you to believe that helping the poor is more than we can afford. If our debt seems too high it’s because the super-wealthy aren’t paying the same percentage we are. HRC will raise their taxes to a relative level. Don Trump will cause more debt by cutting taxes on the super-rich.

  5. Timoteo 2016-10-14 15:22

    How much of GDP are we spending to service the national debt?

  6. Donald Pay 2016-10-14 15:45

    How much was the federal debt when Thune went to Congress? How much is it now? Sometimes Thune needs to think before he opens his mouth to say Republican nonsense.

    Obama and Bush didn’t increase the debt all by themselves. It took a dysfunctional Congress over many years to overlook lots of cost savings. I seem to remember Thune has been in DC a long, long time. He’s far more responsible for the national debt than Obama.

  7. bearcreekbat 2016-10-14 17:59

    Ah, the national debt – a program to help investors with safe US savings bonds so investors don’t have to gamble in the stock market. Sort of like a bank’s savings account – accept the money, use it for home loans, or car loans, etc, and when the customer wants or needs his savings, give it back to him. US savings bonds provide funds for the US to address various national needs, but when bond owners need the funds, there the money is – available with interest. Seems like a positive public policy that benefits people who want safe savings and our Country at the same time.

  8. mike from iowa 2016-10-14 18:40

    WASHINGTON — For his first annual budget next week, President Obama has banned four accounting gimmicks that President George W. Bush used to make deficit projections look smaller. The price of more honest bookkeeping: A budget that is $2.7 trillion deeper in the red over the next decade than it would otherwise appear, according to administration officials.

    The new accounting involves spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Medicare reimbursements to physicians and the cost of disaster responses.

    But the biggest adjustment will deal with revenues from the alternative minimum tax, a parallel tax system enacted in 1969 to prevent the wealthy from using tax shelters to avoid paying any income tax.

    From the above link

  9. John Kennedy Claussen, Sr. 2016-10-14 18:58

    Bush43’s debt went to pay for unnecessary wars and tax cuts for the rich, which were also unnecessary.

    Obama’s debt has gone to stabilizing the economy after the worst economic downfall (thanks to Bush43) since the Great Depression.

    Even if Obama’s debt was greater than Bush’s, it could still be justified, while Bush’s was a total waste.

    Let us also not forget that Obama’s commitment to Keynesian economics during the Great Recession, as opposed to the actions of other western leaders at that time, explains why the US economy has walked from the Great Recession with greater strength than many of our western counterparts – an Obama economic and fiscal strategy which explains for much of the indebtedness under his leadership.

    I might also add, that had Obama not been committed to spending us out of the recession (Keynesian) as opposed to fiscal restraint, then where would have Senator Thune’s colleague, Senator Rounds, have found, as Governor at the time, the necessary money to balance the 2009 South Dakota state budget had it not been for the Democratic Party’s federal 2009 Recovery Act?…. So where is the self-proclaimed Republican fiscal restraint in that example, John and/or Mike?

  10. leslie 2016-10-14 19:30

    at the pennington county fair a month ago Joe Lowe’s graphs of spending comparison were vehemently attacked at our PenDem booth, and I’d appreciate if Joe could publically address the veracity of those numbers and their accuracy.

  11. grudznick 2016-10-14 21:04

    You fellows realize the “Bush Debt” is the fault of Mr. Clinton, and the “Obama Debt” is the credit of Mr. Bush, and the libbies always wreck the economy. It has been proven over the years, or they would not have jobs called Economists who always naysay the libbies unless they are insane and “teach” at private institutions in Sioux Falls or Grand Forks.

  12. Porter Lansing 2016-10-14 21:14

    You give South Dakota schools a bad name.

  13. grudznick 2016-10-14 21:22

    The more water that flows down the Cheyenne River, the more Mr. Sibby seems to have been correct in some of his analyses. He is a mental brute when it comes to razor conclusions and a tenacious clinging to the end. And the end may be nigh.

  14. Darin Larson 2016-10-14 21:55

    Grudznick, Bush took advantage of rosy tax collections forecasts which were made at the time Bush was enjoying the aftermath of the Clinton economy and gave the rich an unnecessary tax cut. Once again supply side economics was proven wrong as the tax cuts did not spur economic growth. In fact, in spite of all the spending on the war, we still had to endure the Great Recession under the Bush Administration.

    I do think that we need more focus on debt reduction during times of economic growth. The thing everyone forgets about Keynes is that he advocated paying down the debt when times are good. In that way, you keep your powder dry for when we really need deficit spending to spur the economy out of recession. Our ratio of debt to GDP is now over 100%. Interest on the debt is becoming problematic.

    That said, I like our position better than Japan and most other major economies, especially in light of the demographics of Japan and other nations who are going to face massive aging of their population for the foreseeable future. If we would use our military in smarter ways (refraining from major invasions for one thing), and adjust the tax burden on the rich so that they are paying more of their fair share, we could get the debt under control with a 10-20 year plan. The sooner we do something about it, the less severe the effect on programs and services will be. Make no mistake, it is a threat to our economic wellbeing in the long run.

  15. John Kennedy Claussen, Sr. 2016-10-14 22:25

    No President has been served a silver platter like the one Bush43 was given from day one. He started his first day in the oval office with an already balanced budget, a good economy, no wars to attend too, and a warning from Clinton to keep his eye on Bin Laden. But what does Bush do? He blows the budget, takes his eye off Bin Laden due to his personal obsessions with Iraq and Saddam, and then stewards a weakening economy due to 9/11, the inevitable failures of a “trickle-down” supply-sided fiscal policy and an inherent indifference to the needed greater regulating of a ballooning housing market, which in turn ushered in the “Great Recession.”

    When you look at the decisions and policies of Bush43, it is fair to say that the Bush deficits and the Obama deficits are actually the product of only one president and that is Bush43, because there was no silver platter for President Obama on day one, rather just a mountain of problems instigated by his predecessors failed policies….

  16. Troy Jones 2016-10-15 04:50


    Make one adjustment and re-do your computation.

    Bush added to the debt for TARP and the money got paid back with interest during Obama.

  17. John Kennedy Claussen, Sr. 2016-10-15 13:09

    TARP or no TARP, the Obama deficits are actually all on Bush43. Unless you do not subscribe to Keynesian economics and prefer fiscal and monetary restraint, which means you support the further collapsing of a challenged economy with even less revenue that then results in even greater deficits and greater social and economic disarray….

  18. leslie 2016-10-15 13:35

    electing trump will be just like electing bush43. both have no business being there and likely trump will delegate all the work and decision making to hard core neo conservative republican shills like cheney did for bus43. complete abdication of leadership allowing either bush43 or trump in office. same with palin.

  19. Adam 2016-10-15 13:47

    George W. Bush’s War on Terror was mostl/ALL – paid for by OFF BUDGET Emergency Supplimental Spending.

    Republicans went along with it to hide the real budgetary impacts (fiscal irresponsibility) of their war games from the American people.

    It’s starting to look like we may never have to suffer through another Republican President ever again. The GOP is beyond repair.

  20. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-10-16 13:36

    Libbies wreck the economy, Grudz? Let’s see: Bush père and fils both led us into recession. Clinton led us to budget surplus; Obama led us out of the Great Recession and into steady job growth.

    Of course, we Sanders/Wellstone Democrats could argue that we have had any libbies in the White House in the last thirty years. ;-)

  21. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-10-16 13:39

    I’d give GW Bush a third term before I gave Trump a first.

  22. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-10-16 13:43

    Troy, who gets the credit for turning a profit on TARP?

    The massive, emergency nature of TARP (passed after end of FY2008) makes my seven-year comparison more helpful… and emphasizes President Obama’s superior fiscal performance. Why, again, was Thune groaning about debt Thursday night?

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