The GOP’s Sad Record on Debt: Or, Why Romney Will Only Make It Worse

Loads of folks–most recently Bill Clinton in his convention speech–have trotted out data on Democratic vs. Republican stewardship of the economy. Here’s my contribution to the long list of evidence against today’s Republican budgets.

The White House has these great charts, and one of my faves is the one showing Gross Federal Debt data. (In an XL spreadsheet here: )

It hurts to look at, for several reasons, but it’s also pretty instructive when it comes to parsing the differences between Republican and Democratic presidents in terms of debt-reduction. As you run your eyes down the columns for Gross Federal Debt (in constant dollars) and GFD as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product, there are some things that stick out.

Gross Federal Debt, end of fiscal year, in millions of dollars

1. Only once in the last 50 years (FY 1969) has the Gross Federal Debt gone down from one year to the next, at least in adjusted dollars. That was Johnson’s final budget.

2. When you look at the debt as a percentage of GDP, things are a little different:

Gross Federal Debt, end of fiscal year, as a percentage of GDP


There are a few years where it actually does go down. For starters, it decreases or remains fairly stable (fluctuations of ca. 2% max) pretty consistently from 1946 until 1982 as the country comes back from its huge expenditures for WWII.

Then, in 1982–Reagan’s first budget–the Gross Federal Debt as a percentage of GDP goes up in its biggest increase since the early 1940s, from 32.5% to 35.3% of GDP, a rise of 2.8%. The following year–still Reagan–it goes up to 39.9%. It goes up every year thereafter until 1997, the fourth budget Clinton signed. With Bush I’s final budget (FY 1993), it is at 66.1%.

Clinton’s first budget raised it only 0.5% to 66.6%, the smallest increase since Carter’s last budget, which had actually reduced GFD as a percentage of GDP.

During Clinton’s terms, it remained fairly stable until it started to come down in 1997. In other words, Clinton slowed the mess down for the first time since Carter.

3. Clinton’s budgets, debt as a percentage of GDP:
1994: 66.6
1995: 67.0
1996: 67.1
1997: 65.4
1998: 63.2
1999: 60.9
2000: 57.3
2001: 56.4
When Clinton left the White House, his last budget had reduced federal debt as a percentage of GDP from over 66% to under 57%. The fact that he had reduced it at all is an achievement, because neither Reagan nor Bush, his two Republican predecessors, had done it.

4. In George W. Bush’s first budget (FY 2002) the next year, Gross Federal Debt as a percentage of GDP went back up. It has not stopped rising since then, and Bush’s final budget had debt at 85.2% of GDP (this included the huge outlays for the bank bailouts Bush signed off on: TARP, etc).

I realize that these numbers can’t tell the whole story. But they’re indicative of general trends set by an administration, and by the president who signs off on our spending and revenue.

In the first Presidential debate a few weeks ago, the President, in a rare moment of backbone during an otherwise lackluster debate performance, suggested that we have data on what works and what doesn’t when it comes to eradicating debt and balancing the budget, and that that data consists of the Clinton years vs. the Reagan and Bush years. Romney’s plans are strikingly similar to those of Bush and Reagan: tax cuts matched with increased defense spending.

We should all be very worried about a Romney/Ryan administration. These numbers do not suggest that their plan will help us get out of debt this time, because it did not help us last time. On the contrary, it just made it worse. Consistently. Between Reagan’s first budget and Bush I’s final budget, our Gross Federal Debt as a percentage of GDP went from–wait for it–32.5% to 66.1%.


About Malt Does More

Reading, writing, eating, and drinking, and currently based in Singapore
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1 Response to The GOP’s Sad Record on Debt: Or, Why Romney Will Only Make It Worse

  1. I agree completely. Their plan is so full of holes right now.

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