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Paul
"George W. Bush doubled the debt from $5 trillion to $10 trillion. President Obama doubled the debt from $10 trillion to $20 trillion. Now we're on course to exceed $30 trillion in the next seven years or so."

Rand Paul on Thursday, February 8th, 2018 in a Senate floor speech

Rand Paul gets numbers right in speech on federal debt

 

As the House and Senate were rushing to head off a government shutdown during a late-night session on Feb. 8, Sen. Rand Paul,. R-Ky., was doing everything he could to slow the rush to passing a new spending bill.

In a lengthy floor speech, Paul took aim at lawmakers who wring their hands about the rising debt but then vote for legislation that adds red ink.

At one point in his speech, Paul said, "George W. Bush doubled the debt from $5 trillion to $10 trillion. President Obama doubled the debt from $10 trillion to $20 trillion. Now we're on course to exceed $30 trillion in the next seven years or so."

We found that this assertion was largely accurate, but needs a few bits of context.

The debt records of Bush and Obama

Using the Treasury Department’s "Debt to the Penny" calculator, we were able to pinpoint the amount of debt created under each president.

When Bush was sworn in on Jan. 20, 2001, the gross federal debt was $5.73 trillion. By the time he left office on Jan. 20, 2009, it was $10.63 trillion. So he’s on target with the numbers on Bush’s watch.

As for Obama, the debt rose on his watch to $19.95 trillion. That’s not quite $20 trillion, but it’s awfully close.

While Paul is basically right on the numbers, there is some nuance to add:

• Paul is using one of two measures for debt, and it’s the larger of the two. He’s using gross federal debt, which includes debt not just held by the public, but also debt one part of the federal government owes to another part of the federal government. The debt figures would have been smaller if he’d only used publicly held debt, which is another commonly used measurement.

• It’s an exaggeration to personalize the debt increase -- saying that Bush and Obama both "doubled" the debt. Other factors beyond presidential actions helped enable that doubling, including demographic factors, such as the aging of the Baby Boom; external events beyond the president’s control, including the Great Recession; and Congress’s actions in setting spending levels. Both presidents spent at least part of their terms with the opposing party controlling all or part of Congress.

"Now we're on course to exceed $30 trillion in the next seven years or so."

Officially, the CBO has not published this specific projection yet, but from what we can piece together, Paul has a point here, too.

Even before the Republican-backed tax bill and the recent spending bill were enacted, the debt was set to soar.

In its official projection from June 2017, the Congressional Budget Office -- Congress’ nonpartisan number-crunching agency -- estimated that the debt would rise as follows:

 

Year

Gross federal debt at end of year

2018

$21.2 trillion

2019

$22.1 trillion

2020

$22.9 trillion

2021

$23.9 trillion

2022

$24.9 trillion

2023

$26.0 trillion

2024

$27.0 trillion

2025

$28.2 trillion

2026

$29.5 trillion

2027

$30.7 trillion

 

If you consider "the next seven years or so" to be 2025, then the tax and spending bills passed in the past two months would have had to add an additional $1.8 trillion to the projected deficit to hit Paul’s $30 trillion debt figure by that year.

Did they? The best estimates we can find say yes.

For starters, the CBO released a letter after the tax bill was passed in December 2017 that said the debt held by the public would grow by a cumulative $1.65 trillion through 2025 as a result of the bill. (In this case, the CBO used publicly held debt, the smaller of the two debt measures.)

So the tax bill alone would bring the debt level to at least $29.85 trillion by 2025.

The spending bill appears to have put it over the top.

A widely cited estimate by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget found that the spending bill would cost an additional $320 billion to the debt through 2027, and almost $420 billion if you include interest. Even if you pare that number a bit in order to count only the years through 2025, it should be enough to break the $30 trillion barrier in seven years, as Paul predicted.

As with the other part of the statement, we have a caveat to add.

While Paul voted against the spending bill, he did vote in favor of the tax bill. If he wished, Paul could have saved $1.65 trillion in debt through 2025 by voting against the bigger of the two debt-busting bills. But he didn’t.

Paul’s office did not respond to an inquiry for this article.

Our ruling

Paul said, "George W. Bush doubled the debt from $5 trillion to $10 trillion. President Obama doubled the debt from $10 trillion to $20 trillion. Now we're on course to exceed $30 trillion in the next seven years or so."

Paul is essentially right on all of the numbers. That said, his comment was wrong to personalize the cause of the debt increases. While Bush and Obama played a role in the increase in the federal debt on their watch, so did other factors, including demographics, external events, and congressional actions driven by the other party.

We rate the statement Mostly True.

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Mostly True
"George W. Bush doubled the debt from $5 trillion to $10 trillion. President Obama doubled the debt from $10 trillion to $20 trillion. Now we're on course to exceed $30 trillion in the next seven years or so."
a Senate floor speech
Thursday, February 8, 2018