Which Recent Presidents Have Increased Deficits The Most?

Which Recent Presidents Have Increased Deficits The Most?

By: Robert Sott

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We frequently hear that our “out-of-control federal government with their deficit spending is passing a huge debt along to our grandchildren.” The argument usually made is that Republican Presidents do their level best to rein in deficit spending, and their progress is altogether undone when a Democrat is elected the next time around. I’m a mathematician by trade, and thought I’d check the numbers and share them with our Edgefield Advertiserreaders. How did the most recent two Republican Presidents and the most recent two Democratic Presidents do, when measured just by their administration’s deficit spending? I’ll make the assumption that if a President takes office in January he (or, perhaps in the future, she) is not responsible for the budget until the fiscal year starting nine months after taking office: the first budget year of that presidency.

Democratic President Bill Clinton’s first full fiscal year in office was 1994, and his eight-year sequence of deficit spending (in billions of dollars) was as follows: $203, $164, $107, $22, ($69), ($126), ($236), ($128). The numbers in parentheses are surpluses; the Clinton eight-year trend shows the deficit consistently shrinking until actually turning into a surplus. Next, Republican President George W. Bush’s eight-year sequence of deficits, starting in FY2002, was $158, $378, $413, $318, $248, $161, $459, and $1413. The numbers bounced around a bit, but there was always a deficit and the trend was upward: it started at $158 billion and ended almost 10 times higher, at $1.4 trillion. The next administration belonged to Democratic President Barack Obama. His eight-year sequence of deficits, starting in FY2010, was $1294, $1300, $1087, $679, $485, $438, $585, and $665. Again the sequence bounced around but this time the trend was downward: it started high but still lower than during President Bush’s final year, at $1.3 trillion, and ended at about half of that, $665 billion. And finally, the first year for the Republican administration of Donald Trump, plus the projected deficit for the next three years, are as follows: $779, $1091, $1101, $1068. Again the numbers bounce around but the trend is clear: the Trump administration’s deficit spending started at $779 billion (over $100 billion higher than President Obama’s final year) and increases to a projected $1.1 trillion this year, staying about there through the end of his four-year term.

Which shows a consistent record of increasing deficits over the last quarter of a century: Republican presidential terms or Democratic presidential terms? And which shows a consistent record of decreasing deficits? Except for Bill Clinton’s second term in office, neither party has a stellar record of deficit reduction. Having said that, it is clear which of those sets of numbers – those under Democratic or under Republican Presidents – are the ones in which deficits fall, and which are the ones in which deficits rise. The argument usually made is precisely backwards.

There are many concerns to be weighed before deciding for whom to vote in the 2020 presidential election, and deficit spending is just one of those concerns. But if you, as a voter, are most strongly tied to the issue of keeping federal deficits in check, don’t just believe the political rhetoric or your favorite cable news outlet. Look at the numbers. They speak for themselves.