The Deficit: Did Obama create it and how would he reduce it?

By Stacey J. Haseleu

I’ve never been a numbers person.  Math was my absolute worst subject in high school, and I don’t know how I squeaked by in college economics, but during this election, it’s clear that to place a well-informed vote, you have to know a thing or two about numbers.  And these aren’t small numbers, we’re talking billions and trillions of dollars multiplied by spending and reduced by revenue and what do you get?  A lot of confused Americans who basically just want the easy explanation of all this number malarkey.

The Romney/Ryan campaign would have voters think that Obama has actually caused more debt in the past 4 years than all of former President George W. Bush’s debt in his 8 years combined — which was just about $5 trillion dollars coincidentally.  And this claim would appear to check out on first glance.

After all, according to Ezra Klein, in his article in the Washington Post entitled Doing the math on Obama’s deficit,  when Obama took office in 2008, the national debt was $10.5 trillion.  Today, it tops out at about $15.2 trillion.  Anyone that can do simple arithmetic — as we were reminded in Bill Clinton’s speech at the DNC — can see that the clear difference between these two numbers is the addition of about $4.7 trillion dollars of debt.

The Romney/Ryan campaign likes keeping this conversation short, sweet, and to the point.  But, is this blanket statement that Obama is responsible for nearly $5 trillion dollars in debt the absolute truth?  Did the policies that Obama implemented while in office in just 4 years create $5 trillion in debt?

I went through a mountain of research, read legislative pieces, economic theses and I even think there was some quantum physics in the mix (not really, although it seemed that complicated).  I found some really confusing information that, in the end left me asking more questions about what I was actually reading than questions about the deficit debate, but I also found some straight forward, clear information that passes all of my fact check tests. Let me expand on some of the information I found to be factual in all of my research, and you can decide for yourself who is responsible for the copious amount of debt we find America in today.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), during Obama’s administration thus far, he has spent money on the American Investment and Recovery Act ($874 billion), a 2-year extension of former President George W. Bush’s tax cuts ($620 billion), other mandatory spending ($324 billion), and other revenue ($113 billion).

But these figures clearly demonstrate a total spending in the amount of less than $1 trillion.  So where, you may be asking, did the other $3.7 trillion dollars of debt come from?

According to Carolyn Cutrone and Steve Rendall, contributing writers of FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting), “the economic crisis has been a huge contribution to the deficit” contributing “34 percent of the 2010 deficit and 28 percent of the 2011 deficit.”   Other factors, they included, are the Bush tax cuts ($375 billion this year) and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and increased security post 9/11 ($1.2 trillion cumulative spending).

But the numbers still aren’t adding up, so the CBPP created the chart below illustrating Obama’s contributing factors to the deficit (as well as income that will decrease the deficit) in comparison to policies which were implemented prior to his taking office which are still affecting the national debt.  The chart shows the cost of Bush’s policies from 2001 through 2009 as well as Obama’s actual and projected spending cost from 2009 through 2017 (the end of a hypothetical second term).

Not only is the above chart clearly indicative that Obama’s implemented policy costs were slightly less than $1 trillion, but it also illustrates another key point, according to Ezra Klein,

“Obama’s spending is front loaded, and his savings are back loaded. The stimulus bill, for instance, is mostly finished. But the Budget Control Act is expected to save $2.1 trillion over the next 10 years. The health-care law is expected to save more than a trillion dollars in its second decade. If our numbers were extended further, the analysis would have reflected more of Obama’s planned deficit reduction.”

This statement brings up another point of contention.  The republican party would have voters believe that Obama will spend exorbitantly if re-elected without reducing the deficit.

Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan stated in his speech at the RNC:

“He [Obama] created a new bipartisan debt  commission. They came back with an urgent report. He thanks them, sent  them on their way, and then did exactly nothing. Republicans stepped up  with good-faith reforms and solutions equal to the problems.  How did  the president respond?  By doing nothing — nothing except to dodge and  demagogue the issue.”

But my fact checking on this statement brings out additional information which is pertinent to the deficit discussion.  Ryan, we assume, was referring to the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility report which proposed deep spending cuts in domestic and military spending as well as an overhaul of the tax code.

According to, what Ryan failed to mention is that the report received support of only 11 members and needed 18 votes to pass.  The democrats opposed changes to Social Security (ie raising the age of eligibility) and republicans (including Ryan) opposed military cuts and tax revenue.

Although Obama did not support the specific recommendations of the report, he has since been working to create legislation that would ultimately reduce the deficit by $3.6 trillion dollars over 10 years.

The package includes spending cuts and tax hikes.  You can view the plan in its entirety by clicking here.  But I have outlined below how the major components of this plan would bring money back to begin to pay off the horrendous national deficit:

  1. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (also referred to as “Obamacare”) — According to the Congressional Budget Office, this legislation would cut the deficit by more than $200 billion in 10 years and would cut it by another $1 trillion over the second decade.
  2. The American Jobs Act — This legislation would produce $3 trillion in savings over 10 years.
  3. The Budget Control Act— This legislation will generate approximately $1 trillion in deficit reduction over the next decade through the use of discretionary spending caps.
  4. Comprehensive Tax Reform — This will cut the deficit by $1.5 trillion over the next decade through tax reform, including the expiration of tax cuts for single taxpayers making over $200,000 and married couples making over $250,000.

In total, the above legislation would reduce the country’s deficit by $3.6 trillion dollars over the next decade.  My hope is the next time you hear propaganda, from either side of the aisle, regarding the nation’s deficit and Obama’s intentions for another 4 years in office, is that you remember this article, refer to it, and, as always CHECK THE FACTS!

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