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C. Eugene Emery Jr.
By C. Eugene Emery Jr. January 31, 2012

U.S. Senate candidate Barry Hinckley says Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse will have added nearly $8 trillion to the national debt during his first term

Barry Hinckley, Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, has posted several short issue-oriented videos on YouTube, including "Era of disgrace," which attacks incumbent Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse for helping to grow the national debt.

Hinckley says that "career politicians have spent us into the ground. They have taxed our children's future away. Sheldon Whitehouse's failure of leadership, the adding of almost $8 trillion in debt in his first full term, is shameful and shows he is unwilling to tackle the problem and go to work on behalf of our children."

We’ll check two parts of this claim -- whether the debt will increase by $8 trillion by the time Whitehouse completes his first term and the degree to which Whitehouse is responsible.

First, let's check the number.

The U.S. government's Treasury Direct website regularly calculates the national debt to the penny and lets people track it over time. From Jan. 3, 2007, when Whitehouse took office, to Jan. 17, 2012, when Hinckley posted the video, the total public debt outstanding went from $8.68 trillion to $15.24 trillion.

That's a difference of $6.56 trillion. That's almost $7 trillion but not "almost $8 trillion." So he's not there yet.

How much is the debt likely to rise by January 2013 when Whitehouse's first term expires? We looked back and found that the increase can vary significantly from year to year. From 2007 to 2008 it went up by 6.1 percent but the next year, it increased by 15.4 percent. Last year it went up by 8.8 percent.

So we used the yearly increase for the past five years since Whitehouse has been in office and projected them onto the debt on Jan. 3, 2012. Then we subtracted the amount the U.S. government owed when Whitehouse took office.

The range: from $7.5 trillion to $8.9 trillion.

In addition, the federal budget for 2012 predicts that by Sept. 30, the gross federal debt will be $16.6 trillion, $8 trillion more than when Whitehouse took office.

So Hinckley's "nearly $8 trillion" is correct.

Second, is the increase a result of Whitehouse's "failure of leadership?"

When we asked the Hinckley campaign how Whitehouse could be held responsible for the increase, he issued a statement through his spokeswoman: "He's made no difference in terms of controlling our debt and has made a huge difference in compliantly increasing it."

Neither Congress nor the president has complete control over the growth in government spending. Throughout his term in office, Whitehouse's party has controlled the Senate. But Republicans held the presidency during his first two years and Republicans will have controlled the House during the last two.

In addition, Whitehouse is currently just one of 51 Democratic Senators and, under the current rules, a bill needs at least some degree of Republican support before it can pass there.

To suggest, as Hinckley's statement does, that Rhode Island's junior senator is the leader who is destined to saddle the United States with an extra $8 trillion in debt is -- to put it mildly -- a stretch. A lot of other politicians, including members of Hinckley's own party, have played a significant role as well, including passing the budgets that have led to the debt increase.

Our ruling

The national debt is on track to possibly double since Whitehouse took his Senate seat in January 2007, increasing by roughly $8 trillion. Hinckley said it would be "nearly $8 trillion more," and that number may be conservative.

That part of his statement is true.

Whitehouse, as one among 100 Senators and a member of the majority party, bears some responsibility for that increase, but not nearly as much as Hinckley is trying to imply.

We rate his statement Half True.

(Get updates from PolitiFactRI on Twitter. To comment or offer your ruling, visit us on our PolitiFact Rhode Island Facebook page.)

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U.S. Senate candidate Barry Hinckley says Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse will have added nearly $8 trillion to the national debt during his first term

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