- On February 11, the US national debt eclipsed $US22 trillion for the first time.
- Since President Donald Trump took office, the US has added over $US2 trillion in new federal debt.
- See how Trump’s debt accumulation – and projected debt accumulation – stacks up to that of recent presidents including Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush.
The US national debt passed $US22 trillion on February 11, the first time the federal debt had breached that threshold.
The landmark came just over two years after President Donald Trump, who once promised to eliminate the federal debt in eight years, took over the Oval Office.
But compared with some other recent presidents’, Trump’s debt accumulation is not as stunning as it first appears.
The US Treasury has been tracking day-by-day debt accumulation since the start of 1993, meaning daily debt figures are available for the presidencies of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Trump.
In raw terms, Trump added the second-most debt of any recent president. According to the Treasury data, the US added $US2.07 trillion – $US2,065,536,336,472.90 to be exact – in new debt between Trump’s inauguration on January 20, 2017, and February 11, when the country pushed past $US22 trillion. (The US added another $US2.8 billion through February 15, the latest daily figures available.)
That is less than the $US3.46 trillion added between Obama’s inauguration in January 2009 and February 11, 2011, but it is more than the $US676 billion added under Bush and the $US617 billion added under Clinton in their first 752 days as president.
One important difference between Trump’s debt figures and Obama’s is that Trump has added a massive amount of debt while the US economy has been strong, whereas Obama took over during the depths of the financial crisis.
Economists typically recommend that the federal government increase spending, and thus add more debt, during times of economic struggles and then pay down that debt when the economy recovers. So while economic theory would support Obama’s spending to help support the economy, Trump’s recent debt binge has less support among economists.
Looking ahead, recent legislative changes are expected to help Trump catch up to some of his predecessors in the debt-accumulation department.
The combination of the new GOP tax law and the recent bipartisan spending deal are projected to increase the speed of debt accumulation over the rest of Trump’s presidency.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, the annual deficit – the shortfall of federal revenue compared with spending in a given fiscal year – will soon push past $US1 trillion. 2018’s budget deficit was the largest since 2012, when the US was still dealing with the fallout from the recession.
Based on the CBO’s projections, Trump will have accumulated $US3.73 trillion in new debt by the end of the 2020 fiscal year, which, because of federal budget rules, actually runs until the end of September 2020. And by the end of fiscal 2024, the last year of Trump’s second term if he wins reelection, the total debt added is projected to come in at $US8.78 trillion.
A lot could change over that time period – adjustments to the tax code that increase revenue or spending cuts would alter the CBO’s projections. But as it stands, Trump could add roughly the same amount of debt as Obama over two terms.
But while the raw debt figures are astonishing, putting the accumulation in percentage terms provides a somewhat different picture. Based on Treasury data and CBO projections:
- The national debt grew by 15% through February 11 of Clinton’s first term and ended up growing by 36% by the end of the 2000 fiscal year, the final full fiscal year of his presidency.
- The debt grew by 12% during Bush’s first 752 days and grew by 75% when the 2008 fiscal year came to a close.
- Under Obama’s first two years and change, the national debt grew by 33%, and it grew by 84% by the end of the 2016 fiscal year.
- The debt grew 10% in Trump’s first 752 days and is projected to grow by 44% by the end of the 2024 fiscal year.
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