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With an uncontested primary victory under his belt, freshman Wadsworth GOP Rep. Jim Renacci is gearing up for a hotly contested general election battle with Copley Township Democratic Rep. Betty Sutton. The incumbents were placed in the same district by a GOP-controlled state legislature, which had to eliminate two of Ohio’s current 18 congressional seats because the state’s population has grown more slowly than other parts of the country.
In an April 5 campaign email that sought volunteers and donations, Renacci touted his experience as a Northeast Ohio CPA and former small business owner in warning that "Washington’s debt crisis threatens the prosperity of every American."
"Since President Obama took office, our federal spending has increased by nearly 30 percent and our national debt has increased by almost 50 percent," it continued. "The time to stand up and say enough is enough is now!"
The kind of spending Renacci cited sounded excessive over a bit more than three years, so PolitiFact Ohio decided to audit his numbers.
According to the U.S. Treasury Department’s website, on Obama’s Jan. 20, 2009 inauguration date, the total outstanding public debt was $10.627 trillion. By the time of Renacci’s April 5 missive, the total outstanding public debt had risen to $15.620 trillion. That’s almost 47 percent higher than it was the day Obama took office, a number that approximates the "almost 50 percent" statistic cited by Renacci.
It’s worth noting that public debt began to escalate well before Obama’s presidency. On the inauguration date of his GOP predecessor, George W. Bush, total outstanding public debt was $5.728 trillion. On April 5 of Bush’s fourth year in office, public debt had swelled by approximately 25 percent to $7.142 trillion. When Bush left office, the debt was 85 percent higher than when he entered.
Unsurprisingly, Obama’s Treasury Department blames most of the current debt on decisions made under Bush, including tax cuts (which it says cost the government $3 trillion), the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (which it tallies at $1.4 trillion) and the Medicare prescription drug program ($300 billion). It attributes a 12 percent fraction of the deficit to Obama administration policies like the $800 billion recovery act. Treasury Department spokesman Matthew Anderson says the recession further threw the budget out of whack by boosting the need for government aid at a time when tax revenues decreased.
Renacci also stated that federal spending escalated by nearly 30 percent since Obama took office. When we asked his spokesman, James Slepian, where Renacci got the number, he correctly said that federal spending in the last year of Bush’s presidency was $2.982 trillion. He then said that spending would rise by $820 billion, or 27 percent, if President Obama’s $3.803 trillion proposed 2013 budget were to become law.
When we observed that Obama’s proposal is unlikely to become law, and asked whether it’s appropriate to treat that number as dollars that have already been spent, Slepian replied that Obama’s budget reflects the president’s desired spending level. He also conceded it might have been more precise if Renacci had said "Since President Obama took office, his budgets would increase federal spending by nearly 30 percent."
Ohio GOP Sen. Rob Portman provided a more accurate take on the rise in federal spending in a statement that PolitiFact Ohio examined in January. PolitiFact found that Portman’s assertion that federal spending rose 21 percent over the past three years was Mostly True, because his percentage was accurate, but his statement didn’t reflect that the extra spending was a temporary elevation driven by the economic downturn.
Renacci’s statement that the national debt has increased by almost 50 percent on Obama’s watch is accurate, although it fails to account for factors beyond Obama’s control that drove a significant part of the rise. And while federal spending has increased significantly on Obama’s watch, it hasn’t risen by "nearly 30 percent," as Renacci claimed. Nor does Renacci’s statement reflect that plenty of the spending he criticizes is tied to the faltering economy and some was due to decisions made before Obama took office.
On the Truth-O-Meter, we rate his claim Half True.
TreasuryDirect, "Debt to the Penny (Daily History Search Application)," accessed April 9, 2012
U.S. Treasury Department fact sheet, Causes of Deficits Since 2001
Emails with Renacci spokesman James Slepian, April 9, 2012
Interview with Treasury Department spokesman Matthew Anderson, April 11, 2012
PolitiFact Ohio, Senator Rob Portman says federal spending rose 21 percent over three years, Jan. 9, 2012
Congressional Budget Office, Monthly Budget Review, Nov. 7, 2011
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