Politifact, WaPo: No, Obama is the “undisputed debt king”

posted at 3:25 pm on September 29, 2011 by Ed Morrissey

Earlier this week I got a couple of e-mails about a chart du jour attempting to argue that Barack Obama increased the debt the least among the last five Presidents, and wanted to get a response from me.  Frankly, the argument seemed so absurd after Obama’s three massive budget deficits and his failed Porkulus spending that I assumed the chart came from a fringe lefty desperate for a defense of Obama.  As it turns out, I was right, in a way — it came from Nancy Pelosi’s office.  Here’s the chart:

Right off the bat, one can see a basic problem in this chart, which is that we’re comparing apples and oranges.  Reagan, Clinton, and Bush 43 all served for eight years, while Obama had barely cleared two years by the time this chart’s data was published in May 2011.  Even if this was accurately depicting the data, it would still be a misleading graphic comparison.

As two different fact-checkers have found, though, it doesn’t accurately depict the data.  Politifact gives Pelosi and her allies a “Pants On Fire” rating for pushing this chart as reality:

Whoever put the chart together used the date for Jan. 20, 2010 — which is exactly one year to the day after Obama was sworn in — rather than his actual inauguration date. We know this because Treasury says the debt for Jan. 20, 2010, was $12.327 trillion, which is the exact number cited on the supporting document that Pelosi’s office gave us.

However this error happened, it effectively took one year of rapidly escalating debt out of Obama’s column and put it into Bush’s, significantly skewing the numbers. …

Not only did the chart say it was using one statistic and then use another, it also cherry-picked the one that showed the comparison in a more favorable light. According to OMB statistics, public debt rose by 70 percent under Bush, 16 percentage points more slowly than gross federal debt did. And according to the Treasury, the public debt rose by 53 percent under Obama, compared with the 34 percent rise in gross federal debt.

Those numbers would have shown the two presidents much closer in their debt creation records — and that’s without even adjusting for the vastly different lengths of time in office.

Let’s not forget that the Democrats kept Bush out of the loop on the 2009 budget, too, by passing continuing resolutions until Obama took office.  He signed the massive omnibus bill passed by a Democrat-controlled Congress in March 2009 to finish that budget.  And who ran the House of Representatives at that time, and for the last two years of the Bush presidency?  Why, none other than Nancy Pelosi, that’s who.

Politifact then points out that deficits as a percentage of GDP is actually the better measurement, and recalculates the debt on those terms.  Guess who winds up the winner?

Reagan: Up 14.9 percentage points
George H.W. Bush: Up 7.1 percentage points
Clinton: Down 13.4 percentage points
George W. Bush: Up 5.6 percentage points
Obama: Up 21.9 percentage points (through December 2010 only)

So by this measurement — potentially a more important one — Obama is the undisputed debt king of the last five presidents, rather than the guy who added a piddling amount to the debt, as Pelosi’s chart suggested. Of course, all this goes to show that statistics can be used — and misused — to bolster almost any argument.

Politifact isn’t the only media fact-checker working on this chart.  Glenn Kessler at the Washington Post gave Pelosi four Pinocchios, even for her amended chart:

If the chart actually used public debt rather than gross debt, it would have put Obama and George W. Bush virtually in the same league — 60 percent increase (as of September 2011) for Obama versus 70 percent for Bush — even though Bush served as president much longer.

But the biggest problem is that this is just dumb math. What really counts is not the raw debt numbers, but the size of the debt as a percentage of the gross domestic product. The GDP is the broadest measure of the national economy and directly indicates the nation’s ability to service its debts. In fact, the White House budget office historical tables portray much of the data as a percentage of GDP, because that is the best way to truly compare such numbers over time.

If the chart were recast to show how much the debt went up as a percentage of GDP, it would look pretty bad for Obama after not even three years in office. In fact, Obama does almost twice as poorly as Reagan — and four times worse than George W. Bush.

Kessler concludes:

But the fact remains that under basic economic measures, not phony ones, his record on the growth of the national debt is the worst of recent presidents.

Of course, as I often argue, the greater share of responsibility for debt growth belongs to Congress, not presidents, although it’s no secret why Pelosi would want to distract people from that measure.  Unfortunately, that argument backfired, as it gave us all another opportunity to focus on how much damage Obama has done in a much shorter time frame to the nation’s finances.  Great job, Congresswoman!

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Lies, damned lies, and statistics from Democrats.

VastRightWingConspirator on September 29, 2011 at 3:29 PM

However this error happened,

Error? It was no error, it was intentional.

And BTW, Reagan had a Democratic House his whole time.

rbj on September 29, 2011 at 3:31 PM

Lies, damned lies, and

statistics from Democrats.

VastRightWingConspirator on September 29, 2011 at 3:29 PM

Now you’re just being redundant.

Vyce on September 29, 2011 at 3:32 PM

Why let a little thing like the facts get in the way?

sandee on September 29, 2011 at 3:34 PM

Great job, Congresswoman!

That hurt!!!

antisocial on September 29, 2011 at 3:35 PM

In socialist systems, the future is predictable enough–predictably dismal–but the past keeps changing. Instead of making the future brighter, you change the past to make it darker.

RBMN on September 29, 2011 at 3:37 PM

You’d think all of our big government trolls would be here demanding that Pelosi be honest with the american people; lest they lose faith in government.

lorien1973 on September 29, 2011 at 3:37 PM

We quickly discovered the source of the discrepancy: Whoever put the chart together used the date for Jan. 20, 2010 — which is exactly one year to the day after Obama was sworn in — rather than his actual inauguration date. We know this because Treasury says the debt for Jan. 20, 2010, was $12.327 trillion, which is the exact number cited on the supporting document that Pelosi’s office gave us.

However this error happened, it effectively took one year of rapidly escalating debt out of Obama’s column and put it into Bush’s, significantly skewing the numbers.

Lying sacks of Socialist excrement.

mankai on September 29, 2011 at 3:39 PM

Paging bayam!

Del Dolemonte on September 29, 2011 at 3:41 PM

I love demorat charts like this because if you look at them backwards and upside down they spell “Dubya is the devil”.

Bishop on September 29, 2011 at 3:41 PM

And BTW, Reagan had a Democratic House his whole time.

rbj on September 29, 2011 at 3:31 PM

Yeah, it’s always funny when these charts are done base solely on who was president. It’s much more telling when you see who was controlling congress during those president’s terms.

Makes charts like this much harder for democrats to explain.

Scrappy on September 29, 2011 at 3:41 PM

Still stuck on STUPID.

Dominion on September 29, 2011 at 3:42 PM

Perception is reality.

The Chart will be printed out and given to stupid liberal rubes who will then pass it around as fact.

And the stupid uninformed electorate will see it and say “Wow. Obama hardly raised ANY debt.”

portlandon on September 29, 2011 at 3:48 PM

awww, I was reading and waiting. I wanted to see a new and accurate chart.
bummer. No chart?!!
:(

bridgetown on September 29, 2011 at 3:48 PM

The number that matters more than debt is debt to GDP ratio. With virtually no growth under Obamandias the numbers are even much more distressing. We had much higher GDP growth and the other presidents than the puny 1% to 2% that we have seen with PBHO.

MJBrutus on September 29, 2011 at 3:49 PM

[VastRightWingConspirator on September 29, 2011 at 3:29 PM]

And they have no sense of shame when exposed.

Dusty on September 29, 2011 at 3:51 PM

Bush only 5.6%?
Second look at W?

angryed on September 29, 2011 at 3:52 PM

The fact that Pelosi would put this out there is telling. I’m still wondering….what her internals look like. It can’t be good for her to not give Obama his bill, and introduce it for him, and now this. Something is going on, and it’s not good news for Pelosi either.

capejasmine on September 29, 2011 at 3:52 PM

But nonetheless expect this chart to be all over Facebook for the next week or so.

angryed on September 29, 2011 at 3:53 PM

“Biden said it is “totally legitimate” for the 2012 presidential election to be “a referendum on Obama and Biden and the nature and state of the economy.”"

Meanwhile, back at the White House, Axelrod says, “Will someone tell Biden to shut up? After all, were involved in a Titanic struggle here!”

Meanwhile, meanwhile, back on Capital Hill, Pelosi is hoping that the $1 million spent in Porkulus for her Botox treatments will not become public.

The DNC & establishment Republicans new campaign slogan vs the American taxpayer during the next year will soon become:

” Democrats and establishment Republicans: I’m going to beat you with a crowbar until you leave.
American Taxpayers: You can’t do that.
Democrats and establishment Republicans: There are rules here? No, there are no rules here.
American Taxpayers: [as taxes are raised and their possessions are confiscated] You’ve changed – you know that?
Democrats and establishment Republicans: Yes – I suppose I have! How about this: “Peace, love, *dope*”? Now get the *hell* out of here! “

Danny on September 29, 2011 at 3:53 PM

Both sides of the aisle LIE.
I wish someone would come out with some real FACTS for us, the US Taxpayer. Are we not entitled to know truths?!!?!
Grrrrrrrrr

bridgetown on September 29, 2011 at 3:57 PM

Yeah, we kinda knew Zero was spending us into oblivion.

Regarding the GDP, Spending, Unemployment and any statistic this administration puts out, consider this from Cybercast News:

“The Census Bureau admitted Tuesday that it had ‘artificially inflated the number of same-sex couples‘ in the United States, initially reporting a number that was about 40 percent higher than what it now believes is accurate.

This administration manipulates every bit of information to suit their purposes.

dogsoldier on September 29, 2011 at 4:00 PM

I’ll give Dubya a little wiggle room. He inherited a stripped down military thanks to Bubba’s “peace dividend”. Combine that with 9/11, and it just screams ramp up defense spending.

Laura in Maryland on September 29, 2011 at 4:00 PM

even the corrected numbers still don’t tell the whole story. Under Reagan Assets outgrew Liabilities 10 to 1, the actual real debt burden from the Reagan years decreased

jp on September 29, 2011 at 4:00 PM

bridgetown on September 29, 2011 at 3:57 PM

Obi-Wan: “Luke, you’re going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.”

lorien1973 on September 29, 2011 at 4:01 PM

Thank you for this story! Some of my lefty FB friends have all ready posted this chart. Now, I have something to post, too!

McKenz59 on September 29, 2011 at 4:03 PM

Both sides of the aisle LIE.
I wish someone would come out with some real FACTS for us, the US Taxpayer. Are we not entitled to know truths?!!?!
Grrrrrrrrr

bridgetown on September 29, 2011 at 3:57 PM

Go to this site, http://www.TreasuryDirect.gov & run the actual numbers. I believe that you could start at the beginning of the Clinton Administration. I’d strongly recommend that you have a bottle of strong liquor near by, because when you calculate the $$$/month spent, then compare the different respective Congresses & Administrations, you are going to want to drink heavily. The most restrained spending was during the Clinton Administration when the Republicans controlled Congress. Obama’s & Pelosi’s monthly spending is almost beyond belief. If it wasn’t documented, you wouldn’t believe it.

Danny on September 29, 2011 at 4:07 PM

I screwed up the link, just cut & paste this in your browser:

http://www.treasurydirect.gov/NP/BPDLogin?application=np

Danny on September 29, 2011 at 4:09 PM

Can we recast this as a function of who’s controlling Congress?

Much of Reagan’s time had the Dems controlling both houses. Clinton had both houses the opposite way – and doesn’t the Contract w/ America, rather than Clinton, deserve a great deal of the kudos (as well as an internet bubble which didn’t burst until the verrrrrrry end of his office)? W. has no excuse at the beginning as he had a sympathetic congress. But, whoa!!!! hold those horses. I would like to see the trend line change once Nancy took over.

Pablo Snooze on September 29, 2011 at 4:09 PM

Paging bayam!

Del Dolemonte on September 29, 2011 at 3:41 PM

You know, if we don’t give billions to leftist connected trash, such as Pelosi hangers ons, the Chinese will do R&D better than us. And space! So there!

MNHawk on September 29, 2011 at 4:11 PM

Why can’t someone do a debt analysis by control of Congress with four colums: Democracts control Senate and House; Republicans control Senate and House; Democrats only control House; and Repubicans only control House. Let’s see what that produces…

Anybody willing to do it…

RedSoxNation on September 29, 2011 at 4:13 PM

Just got that dummass chart on Facebook from an overly angry friend.

birdhurd on September 29, 2011 at 4:19 PM

Perception is reality.

The Chart will be printed out and given to stupid liberal rubes who will then pass it around as fact.

And the stupid uninformed electorate will see it and say “Wow. Obama hardly raised ANY debt.”

portlandon on September 29, 2011 at 3:48 PM

It’s been making the rounds on Facebook.

Very Orwellian…convince people that things are better now than they were say 8 years ago…awesome!

Dr. ZhivBlago on September 29, 2011 at 4:21 PM

Anybody willing to do it…

RedSoxNation on September 29, 2011 at 4:13 PM

I’ve done it before, it’s very tedious, and distressing, and needed therapy.

But if you want to try it, go to the site below. (Make sure you have some liquor handy.)

http://www.treasurydirect.gov/NP/BPDLogin?application=np

Danny on September 29, 2011 at 4:29 PM

Lying sacks of Socialist excrement.

mankai on September 29, 2011 at 3:39 PM

redundant

Laura in Maryland on September 29, 2011 at 4:49 PM

That really is misleading: “Look, guys, only 16%. This guy is a frugal spender.”

RDE2010 on September 29, 2011 at 4:50 PM

Added to favorites.

fossten on September 29, 2011 at 5:25 PM

Where is a chart using House of Representatives as the timeline base instead of President?

I wonder which party would win that contest?

Tip O’Neill, Nancy Pelosi, etc. versus Newt et al.

fred5678 on September 29, 2011 at 5:42 PM

Right off the bat, one can see a basic problem in this chart, which is that we’re comparing apples and oranges. Reagan, Clinton, and Bush 43 all served for eight years, while Obama had barely cleared two years by the time this chart’s data was published in May 2011.

If we want to account for time served by each President, we should divide the percentage of GDP increase in debt by the number of years in office. This would result in:

Reagan: 14.9% / 8 years = 1.86% of GDP per year
Bush 41: 7.1% / 4 years = 1.78% of GDP per year
Clinton: -13.4% / 8 years = -1.67% of GDP per year
Bush 43: 5.6% / 8 years = 0.70% of GDP per year
Obama: 21.9% / 2 years = 10.95% of GDP per year

By this metric, Clinton did best (helped by a GOP Congress), Bush 43 was second, Reagan and Bush 41 were about even, and Obama expanded debt 6 times faster than Reagan or Bush 41.

Let’s graph THAT–it will be the “hockey stick” of debt!

Steve Z on September 29, 2011 at 5:43 PM

rbj on September 29, 2011 at 3:31 PM

And Reagan had to build up a military that had languished under Carter.

DrMagnolias on September 29, 2011 at 5:56 PM

To quote the last man standing, “liberals lie”.

Kissmygrits on September 29, 2011 at 6:07 PM

Debt decreased under Clinton, and the world didn’t end???

Obviously that’s a lie. /s

KMC1 on September 29, 2011 at 6:39 PM

Nancy-poo trying to cover up? I’M SHOCKED! SHOCKED I TELL YOU!

Why, next thing you know, you’ll be telling me she didn’t pass any more budgets after Porkulus because she didn’t want anyone to see all the RED INK.

GarandFan on September 29, 2011 at 6:57 PM

Paging bayam!

Del Dolemonte on September 29, 2011 at 3:41 PM

Heh. Sadly my first thought.

I don’t understand why Bayam passed on this thread./

CW on September 29, 2011 at 7:01 PM

I saw this all over my Facebook feed yesterday. I swear, my blood pressure shot up for quite a while. I generally tolerate this kind of BS on Facebook (I never post political stuff myself), but there is no way I was going to let this lie stand. Thanks Ed for sharing the WaPo fact check. I posted a link to it on my Facebook page. I figure that the there is no way the libs will be able to refute one of their own rags.

ReaganWasRight on September 29, 2011 at 7:27 PM

I have to admit this looks like it’s been Doctored, not done by “mistake.”

Does anyone that has Photoshop know how to unlock the layers to see if it’s been tampered with?
The last two “9′s” in the chart (Bush-Obama) look like (upside down and) inverted “G’s”, where the first few of them like “6′s”.

This reeks of more than a common oversight. Maybe they’re just getting better at falsifying documents?

nationspatriotcom on September 29, 2011 at 8:17 PM