U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez is one of hundreds of federal officials responsible for spending taxpayer dollars, but state Sen. Joseph Kyrillos is pinning blame for the nation’s rising annual deficits on the Democratic incumbent.
Kyrillos, a Republican representing part of Monmouth County, made that accusation during a Feb. 1 speech announcing his plans to seek the GOP nomination and challenge Menendez, who is seeking re-election.
"Senator Menendez said he would spend our money wisely," Kyrillos told the crowd at the Lincroft Inn. "But our annual national deficit climbed from $250 billion a year to $1.6 trillion on his watch."
For this fact-check, PolitiFact New Jersey is tackling two related claims made by Kyrillos. The first claim concerns the specific budgetary figures that he cited, and the second claim deals with whether it’s fair to blame Menendez for those deficits.
We found that Menendez bears some responsibility for the increased deficits, but Kyrillos’ numbers are slightly off and his argument ignores the impact of the recession on federal coffers.
First, let’s talk about the deficit figures.
Kyrillos spokesman Chapin Fay claimed that the annual deficit increased from about $250 billion in fiscal year 2006 -- when Menendez joined the Senate -- to about $1.6 trillion in fiscal year 2011, which ended in September 2011.
The number for fiscal year 2006 is accurate, but the fiscal year 2011 figure cited by Kyrillos is not.
Federal officials had estimated an annual deficit of $1.645 trillion for fiscal year 2011, but the actual deficit turned out to be slightly under $1.3 trillion. During Menendez’s tenure in the Senate, the annual deficit reached its highest level in fiscal year 2009, at about $1.4 trillion.
Now, let’s turn to the larger question: how much did Menendez have to do with the rising deficits?
With regard to the spending increase in fiscal year 2009, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office pointed to three major factors: the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (the stimulus); the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP; and payments to mortgage guarantee agencies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Following its inception, TARP provided federal dollars to financial institutions and automakers.
Menendez voted for the three bills that led to increased spending under those measures.
But two professors with expertise in federal budgeting also pointed to another major factor behind the rising deficits: the recession. The economic downturn caused a steep drop in revenues at a time when more people were seeking unemployment benefits.
"But I think it is silly to blame an individual Senator for changes that were fundamentally driven by the worst recession since the 1930s," Alan Auerbach, an economics professor at the University of California, Berkeley, said in an e-mail.
Daniel Mitchell, a senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute, also said Kyrillos was giving Menendez "too much blame." Menendez deserves some blame, but members of both parties contributed to the increased deficits.
"It’s been a bipartisan problem with all of them going along with it," Mitchell told us.
Fay said Kyrillos believes both parties contributed to the deficit, but maintained that Menendez’s voting record was a significant factor.
"The deficit has risen dramatically during Sen. Menendez's time in office - and as you cited yourself, he has taken an extraordinary number of votes during that time to increase spending," Fay said in an email.
A spokeswoman for Menendez declined to comment.
During his campaign announcement, Kyrillos criticized Menendez by saying "our annual national deficit climbed from $250 billion a year to $1.6 trillion on his watch."
His numbers are slightly off, because the highest annual deficit during Menendez’s tenure in the Senate was about $1.4 trillion in fiscal year 2009.
Menendez bears some responsibility for the large deficits by supporting various measures such as the stimulus and TARP. But experts told us the recession largely contributed to the deficits, and both parties are to blame for increased spending.
We rate the statement Half True.
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