Fact Check: Romney Ad Hurls Debt, Deficit Salvos at Obama

By Steve Kanigher

Published 10/24 2012 07:58PM

Updated 10/25 2012 06:00AM

Claim: A new advertisement endorsed by Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney that is airing on KLAS-TV Channel 8 states: "President Obama says he's creating jobs but he's really creating debt. The facts are clear. Obama's four deficits are the four largest in U.S. history. He's adding almost as much debt as all 43 previous presidents combined. And over 30 cents of every dollar Obama spends is borrowed, much of it from countries like China. He's not just wasting money. He's borrowing it and then wasting it."

Verdict: Partly true and partly misleading. It is true that Obama has presided over the four largest annual federal budget deficits in U.S. history. But the first of those years deserves an asterisk because he initially operated under a budget approved by his predecessor, President George W. Bush, that extended from October 2008 through September 2009. That year's spending included efforts by both Republican Bush and Democrat Obama to prop up the ailing economy. Stephen Bloch, an associate professor of mathematics and computer science at Adelphi University in Garden City, N.Y., has calculated every budget deficit since 1911. He estimated that Bush and Obama shared a record $1.89 trillion deficit in 2008-2009, followed by Obama deficits of $1.65 trillion in 2009-2010, $1.23 trillion in 2010-2011 and $1.22 trillion in 2011-2012.

More problematic is the claim that Obama has added almost as much debt -- the accumulation of annual budget deficits -- as the prior 43 presidents combined. Simple math disproves this because the nation's debt stood at $10.6 trillion when he took office in January 2009 and is $16.2 trillion today. Debt has grown by $5.6 trillion under his watch, barely more than half of what he inherited from his predecessors. It would have been more accurate for the ad to have stated that the nation's debt has grown more under Obama than under any other president.

That said, the Treasury Department reported in February that the independent Congressional Budget Office initially projected the nation would accumulate a $5.9 trillion surplus from January 2001, when Bush took office, through August 2011. Instead, the nation wound up with $6 trillion in cumulative deficits during that time. Of those deficits, 59 percent was attributed to Bush administration policies -- tax cuts and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan among them -- and only 12 percent to Obama policies -- including the 2009 economic stimulus package. The Congressional Budget Office pegged the remaining 29 percent on non-legislative adjustments, including updates to economic and demographic projections.

The claim about borrowing 30 cents on the dollar is in the ballpark, given the Congressional Budget Office's estimate earlier this month that the U.S. took in $2.5 trillion in receipts in fiscal 2012 but spent $3.5 trillion. As for China, it tops the Treasury Department's list of major foreign holders of U.S. debt with $1.15 trillion as of August, when foreigners held a combined $5.4 trillion. Following China are Japan, oil exporters, Caribbean banking centers and Brazil.

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