Friday, October 24th, 2014

Public debt changes, president by president

Oregon State political scientist Robert Sahr devised this comparison in July 2012.
Oregon State political scientist Robert Sahr devised this comparison in July 2012.

In a Democratic U.S. Senate debate, former legislator Paul Sadler said government has to get federal spending under control.

"Until we get our financial house in order, we cannot continue to spend money. We just can’t."

The U.S. has "never seen national debt like this," Sadler said. "It doubled during the Bush administration."

His doubling claim proved Mostly True.

Our analysis, posted to the right, was helped along by guidance from Oregon State University political scientist Robert Sahr, who studies U.S. debt, policy, presidents and inflation, who urged us to focus on inflation-adjusted changes in the public debt.

Gross federal debt rolls in all the money the federal government owes itself, including for programs such as Social Security and Medicare, in addition to public debt. Public debt is only that debt held by the public in money borrowed from investors outside the federal government, in the form of Treasury notes and other securities.

At our nudge, Sahr also delivered a chart -- also posted to the right -- showing percentage changes in the public debt under each president from Harry Truman through George W. Bush. We're offering it as a factual keepsake in case someone says President X drove up the debt, say, more than President Y.