I’ve often compared various administration’s fiscal records. The honest way to do so — the only honest way – is to consider budgets that a president requested from Congress and then signed into law. Budgets are passed during the prior year, so while Reagan entered office in 1981, his first budget was in 1982. Reagan’s fiscal record therefore spans the 1982-1989 budgets, George H Bush was responsible for 1990 through 1993, Clinton’s first budget was for fiscal year 1994, and so on.

George W. Bush sent Congress a budget request in 2008 for fiscal year 2009. He then signed the 2009 budget into law. At the end of the 2009 fiscal year, our public debt stood at $11.87 trillion. According to the latest figures released by the Treasury Department,  it now stands at $14.639 trillion. So, under Obama, the debt has increased by $2.769 trillion.

But that’s not what CBS says! Reporter Mark Knoller basically offers a case-study in how the American people are so poorly informed by our media:

National debt has increased $4 trillion under Obama

The latest posting by the Treasury Department shows the national debt has now increased $4 trillion on President Obama’s watch.

The debt was $10.626 trillion on the day Mr. Obama took office. The latest calculation from Treasury shows the debt has now hit $14.639 trillion.

It’s the most rapid increase in the debt under any U.S. president.

Totally inaccurate. But wait, it gets even better.

The national debt increased $4.9 trillion during the eight-year presidency of George W. Bush. The debt now is rising at a pace to surpass that amount during Mr. Obama’s four-year term.

The first budget Bush signed was for fiscal year 2002. At the end of FY 2001, the national debt stood at $5.777 trillion. His final budget was for fiscal year 2009, which ended with a public debt of $11.876 trillion. So, during Bush’s presidency, the debt rose by $6.099 trillion. CBS took the $2 trillion in debt run up during Bush’s final budgetary year and pinned it on Obama.

Finally, as if our intellects weren’t bruised enough, Knoller takes basic facts that absolutely nobody disputes, and turns them into a classic ‘Democrats say’ passage:

Mr. Obama blames policies inherited from his predecessor’s administration for the soaring debt. He singles out:

  • “two wars we didn’t pay for”
  • “a prescription drug program for seniors…we didn’t pay for.”
  • “tax cuts in 2001 and 2003 that were not paid for.”

He goes on to blame the recession, and its resulting decrease in tax revenue on businesses, for making fewer sales, and more employees being laid off. He says the recession also resulted in more government spending due to increased unemployment insurance payments, subsidies to farms and funding of infrastructure programs that were part of his stimulus program.

All of that is true, but it’s not just Obama saying it — this is what the CBO says as well.

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(click for larger version)

Cross-posted to AlterNet.

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About the Author

Joshua Holland

I write for AlterNet. I've written a book, The 15 Biggest Lies About the Economy, which I recommend. You might also consider following me on Twitter.

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