The man at the top gets the blame for what ails the government, just as quarterbacks usually get the blame when offenses fail in the NFL.  Neither case is particularly fair, but it serves nonetheless as a consistent marker for accountability.  CBS’ Mark Knoller reports that Barack Obama has set a new record for adding to the national debt, smashing the old one set by George Bush:

The latest posting from the Treasury Department shows the National Debt has increased over $2 trillion since President Obama took office.

The debt now stands at $12.6 trillion. On the day Mr. Obama took office it was $10.6 trillion.

President George W. Bush still holds the record for the most debt run up on his watch: $4.9 trillion. But it took him over four years to rack up the first two trillion dollars in debt. It has taken Mr. Obama 421 days.

But the Obama Administration routinely blames the Bush Administration for inheriting a budget surplus and turning it into years of record-breaking deficits and debt — and then leaving it on the doorstep of the new president.

Unfortunately, both CBS and Obama get this one wrong.  Deficits don’t come from Presidents.  They come from Congress, which passes budgets and sets tax policy.  While the White House proposes budgets, Congress actually debates, modifies, and then passes them, usually with some resistance from the President.

In both Bush and Obama’s cases, the records reflect the party in power at the time.  Republicans ran up the $2 trillion in debt in those first five years.  However, Democrats controlled Congress in the final two years of Bush’s presidency, including a Senator named Barack Obama, who voted in favor of the FY2008 budget approved by Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid.  And George Bush never saw the FY2009 budget, as the Democrats played an elaborate game of keep-away, using continuing resolutions to fund the government.  Obama signed an omnibus spending bill in March 2009 to raise the level of FY09 spending to Democrats’ liking.

So how much did each party raise the federal debt over the past nine-plus years?  According to Treasury figures:

  • If one counts the Republican debt as the time they were in control of the House and the White House from 1/20/2001 to 1/2/2007 (although the Democrats actually controlled the Senate until 2003), Republicans were entirely responsible for adding $2.95 trillion to the national debt in six years.
  • Counting it by fiscal year, from 10/1/2001 to 10/1/2007 (since Republicans passed the FY2007 budget before the 2006 midterms), Republicans added $3.26 trillion to the national debt in six years.

Neither of those figures showers the GOP in any glory.  However, both of those figures pale in comparison to the damage Democrats have done in half the time:

  • Counting Democratic control from their ascension after the 2006 midterms (from 1/2/2007 forward), Democratic Congresses have added $3.96 trillion in just over three years.
  • Counting it by fiscal years, Democrats have added $3.57 trillion since 10/1/2007 (the beginning of their FY2008 budget) in 30 months.

Let’s compare rates:

  • Republican rate of debt: $45.2 billion per month (fiscal year), $41 billion per month (control of Congress)
  • Democratic rate of debt: $119.1 billion per month (fiscal year), $104 billion per month (control of Congress)

Democrats have added to the national debt at a rate greater than twice that of Republicans, and have exceeded the debt added in less than three years that Republicans managed to add in six.  That may not be President Obama’s fault entirely, but since Obama was part of the Democratic majority in Congress that spent wildly over the last three years, he certainly owns a big part of it either way.