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By Cristina Silva July 16, 2010

Marco Rubio's favorite statistic

Conservative champion Marco Rubio has declared war on President Barack Obama's spending habits.

He blasts the growing deficit, vulnerable entitlement programs and congressional earmarks on network interviews and at whistle stops across the state. He unveiled a spending plan that calls for making President George W. Bush's 2001 and 2003 tax cuts permanent, ending the inheritance tax and nixing a value-added tax. And, in one of his most reliable lines, Rubio links the federal budget to his offspring's economic future.

"Forty cents of every dollar being spent by the federal government is being borrowed from my children," he told Fox News on June 28, 2010. "I think that's outrageous. We have to stop doing that."

Rubio repeated the claim at an event just outside of St. Petersburg on July 13: "Forty cents of every dollar the federal government spends is borrowed from my children's and your children's and grandchildren's generation. No Americans before have ever done that — not at this perverse level, not at this sustained rate."

Given that Rubio's budget beef has become the heart of his Tea Party-esque stump speech, we wondered whether the father of four was using hard numbers or pushing some kind of GOP fairy tale.

The Rubio campaign directed us to an Associated Press article published in the New York Times on Feb. 4, 2010: "The House voted Thursday to allow the government to go $1.9 trillion deeper in debt, an increase of about $6,000 for every United States resident. The accumulated debt already amounts to roughly $40,000 per person. The debt increase, approved 217 to 212, is only enough to keep the government afloat for about another year as it borrows more than 40 cents of every dollar it spends."

"This was a widely reported stat," said campaign spokesman Alex Burgos.

The Associated Press report doesn't cite a source, but a quick review of the White House's budget summaries shows Rubio's 40 percent claim is as authentic as a 24-pack of Silly Bandz.

The White House spent $3.5 trillion during the 2009-2010 fiscal year, of which $1.4 trillion could not be paid for, creating a deficit of exactly 40 percent.

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Policy and economic experts confirmed that the numbers in the White House's budget summary are a credible source.

"They may have actually got that figure from me," said Brian Riedl, the Heritage Foundation's lead budget analyst who has discussed the 40 percent figure in various media reports. "It's solid, basic math. It just calculates the deficit as a percentage of total spending."

Everyone we spoke with said the deficit will eventually need to be trimmed -- and soon. But, Rubio's larger point -- that the deficit is bad policy -- was largely debated.

"The reason the deficit is so big right now is because we have a massive economic meltdown and deficit spending is appropriate," said Elliott Parker, a University of Nevada Reno economics professor

Parker opposes Rubio's spending plan.

"This is politics at its silliest," Parker said. "You cannot simultaneously make Bush’s tax cuts permanent and deal with the federal deficit, unless you are willing to severely cut Social Security and Medicare."

Leonard Burman, a Syracuse University public affairs professor and a former deputy assistant secretary for tax analysis at the Department of the Treasury, also cautioned against using current deficit figures as a rallying call.

The White House's budget predicts the deficit will fall to 33 percent in 2011, 22 percent in 2012 and 17 percent by 2015 under current policy.

However, Burman, like Rubio, expressed concern that Obama has not taken more forceful actions to decrease the deficit. One of Obama's high-profile solutions was to form a debt commission, which is due to make recommendations to Congress by December.

"I hope the commission is successful, but I also hope to see the Tooth Fairy some day," Burman deadpanned.

In short, we can't predict whether the Rubio children will be stuck with our tab. That is up to future policy decisions. What we do know is in this instance, when it comes to the hard numbers, father still knows best: The United States government spent 40 percent more than what it collected during the most recent fiscal year. We rate this claim True.

Our Sources

Fox News, Marco Rubio interview, June 28, 2010.

New York Times, "House Allows Debt to Rise $1.9 Trillion," February 4, 2010.

Email interview, Marco Rubio campaign spokesman Alex Burgos, July 14, 2010.

White House, Budget Summary Tables.

Telephone interview, Art Benavie, economic professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, July 15, 2010.

Email interview, Brian Riedl, Heritage Foundation's lead budget analyst, July 15, 2010.

NPR, "The Federal Debt: How To Lose A Trillion Dollars," April 30, 2010.

Washington Times, "U.S. budget deficit surpasses $1 trillion," July 14, 2009.

Philadelphia Inquirer, "Until then, we're all government workers," May 28, 2010.

The American Prospect, "Marco Rubio's Debt-Ridden Plan," July 15, 2010.

National Review, "Rubio Goes for Growth," July 14, 2010.

St. Petersburg Times, "Marco Rubio's economic plan: Tax cuts and more tax cuts," July 14, 2010.

Telephone interview, James Horney, director of federal fiscal policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, July 15, 2010.

Email interview, Elliott Parker, University of Nevada Reno economics professor, July 15, 2010.

Telephone interview, Leonard Burman, Syracuse University professor of public affairs, July 15, 2010.

Marco Rubio campaign, "Ideas To Reclaim America: 23 Simple Ways To Create Jobs, Grow Our Economy And Help The Gulf Coast Recover," accessed July 14, 2010.

Email interview, Chris Dreibelbis, public liaison, Peterson-Pew Commission on Budget Reform, Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, July 15, 2010.

Telephone interview, Laurence Kotlikoff, economic professor at Boston University, July 15, 2010.

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