Obama inherited deficits from Bush administration
In a spirited and unscripted debate with the House GOP,
President Barack Obama said Republicans were wrong to portray him as
running up large deficits.
Speaking at a retreat for House Republicans in Baltimore on Jan. 29,
2010, Obama was particularly critical of a question from Rep. Jeb
Hensarling of Texas. Hensarling asked Obama, "You are soon to submit a
new budget, Mr. President. Will that new budget, like your old budget,
triple the national debt and continue to take us down the path of
increasing the cost of government to almost 25 percent of our economy?"
"The fact of the matter is," Obama replied, "is that when we came
into office, the deficit was $1.3 trillion -- $1.3 trillion. So when you
say that suddenly I've got a monthly deficit that's higher than the
annual deficit left by Republicans, that's factually just not true, and
you know it's not true. And what is true is that we came in already with
a $1.3 trillion deficit before I had passed any law. What is true is,
we came in with $8 trillion worth of debt over the next decade."
We checked Hensarling's claim in a separate item. Here, we'll look at
Obama's claim that he came into office with a $1.3 trillion deficit and
$8 trillion worth of debt over the next decade.
On Jan. 7, 2009, two weeks before Obama took office, the
Congressional Budget Office reported that the deficit for fiscal year
2009 was projected to be $1.2 trillion. The 10-year projection was
estimated to be about $3.1 trillion. So Obama's number was very close on
the 2009 deficit -- he said $1.3 trillion -- but substantially
different from the 10-year projection -- he said $8 trillion.
There are two reasons why he differs from the CBO. On the difference
between the $1.2 trillion and the $1.3 trillion, the Obama
administration credited a small portion of spending on its watch to
policies of the previous administration. The reason for this is that the
federal government runs on a fiscal year that starts Oct. 1, so Bush
and Obama technically split responsibility for 2009 spending.
The large difference on the 10-year projection has to do with Bush
administration tax cuts. The CBO creates its estimates based on current
law, which means the CBO assumes that the Bush tax cuts will end in 2010
and everyone will start paying higher taxes in 2011 and going forward.
The Obama administration, on the other hand, assumed in its baseline
that those tax cuts would be renewed.
Economists we spoke with -- Josh Gordon, policy director for the
Concord Coalition, and Brian Riedl, lead budget analyst of the
conservative Heritage Foundation -- both said they believe the White
House approach is more realistic because it assumes current policy will
So the CBO's estimate is $5 trillion lower than the White House
numbers, though economists don't quibble with the White House
methodology. It does highlight, however, that when it comes to budget
projections, people can have differences of opinion about what to
include. In any budget projection there is room for interpretation, but
it seems reasonable to assume for a baseline that the Bush tax cuts will
continue. Obama's numbers are fairly solid, so we rate his statement
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