The pattern continues. Republican Presidents preach fiscal responsibilities even as they explode the deficit. Democrats always seem to start cleaning up the irresponsible mess.
A tweet from Alex Cole, Political news editor and founder of @newsitics recently went viral.
Before anyone reading this blows a gasket, realize the data is sound and was fact-checked by PolitiFact.
Following the money
Now let’s take a closer look at each president’s impact on the federal deficit.
To check the numbers in Cole’s tweet, we went to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, which has an interactive database for these kinds of figures. Here’s what we found for each claim:
“(President Ronald) Reagan took the deficit from 70 billion to 175 billion.” This is more or less accurate. The federal deficit went from about $78.9 billion at the beginning of Reagan’s presidency to $152.6 billion at the end of it. At points between 1983 and 1986, the deficit was actually more than $175 billion.
“(George H.W.) Bush 41 took it to 300 billion.” Close, but not exactly. The number was around $255 billion at the end of Bush’s term. The deficit spiked at around $290.3 billion the year before he left office.
“(Bill) Clinton got it to zero.” This is true. During his presidency, Clinton managed to zero out the deficit and end his term with a $128.2 billion surplus.
“(George W.) Bush 43 took it from 0 to 1.2 trillion.” This is in the ballpark. Ignoring the fact that he actually started his presidency with a surplus, Bush left office in 2009 with a federal deficit of roughly $1.41 trillion.
“(Barack) Obama halved it to 600 billion.” This is essentially accurate. Obama left the presidency with a deficit of approximately $584.6 billion, which is more than halving $1.41 trillion. The deficit was even lower in 2015 at around $441.9 billion.
[President Trump] We had to look for more recent data to back up Cole’s allegation that “Trump’s got it back to a trillion.”
A Treasury Department statement from June put the federal deficit at about $747.1 billion so far this fiscal year. But the agency also reported that Washington is on track to post a $1.1 trillion deficit by the end of September, which backs up Cole’s claim. …
A viral tweet made several claims about how the deficit has grown under Republican presidents and shrunk under Democrats.
On the whole, the numbers presented for each president are basically accurate. However, it’s worth clarifying that presidents alone are not responsible for the rise and fall of the federal deficit.
The tweet is accurate but needs additional information. We rate it Mostly True.
I’ve written blogs pointing out that the economy does measurably better under Democratic Presidential rule. Democratic Presidents do better by shrinking their inherited deficits as well. In other words, while Republicans tout fiscal responsibility as they blame Democrats as the tax and spend party, it is the Democrats who are fiscally responsible and the ones with more successful economies. Progressives and all Democrats need to be shouting these realities ad nauseam.