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At the first presidential debate, Mitt Romney said President Barack Obama had broken an important promise.
"You've been president four years," Romney said at the Oct. 3, 2012, debate in Denver. "You said you'd cut the deficit in half. It's now four years later. We still have trillion-dollar deficits. The CBO says we'll have a trillion-dollar deficit each of the next four years. …"
He added, "I mean, you have said before you'd cut the deficit in half. And this -- I love this idea of $4 trillion in cuts. You found $4 trillion of ways to reduce or to get closer to a balanced budget, except we still show trillion-dollar deficits every year. That doesn't get the job done."
We’ve heard the claim before that Obama promised to cut the deficit in half. Let’s review our findings.
Remarks from 2009
Obama indeed made the pledge on Feb. 23, 2009, following a "Fiscal Responsibility Summit" one month after his inauguration.
His words: "Today I am pledging to cut the deficit we inherited in half by the end of my first term in office. Now, this will not be easy. It will require us to make difficult decisions and face challenges we've long neglected. But I refuse to leave our children with a debt that they cannot repay, and that means taking responsibility right now, in this administration, for getting our spending under control."
He said then that the nation’s $1.3 trillion deficit was the largest in the nation’s history. That figure was mostly unchanged through fiscal year 2011.
In 2012? It’s expected to be $1.1 trillion, according to the nonpartisan researchers at the Congressional Budget Office in an August 2012 report.
The estimate marks the fourth year in a row with a deficit of more than $1 trillion, the CBO noted, although the projection is down slightly from the $1.2 trillion deficit that CBO projected in March.
"This year’s deficit will be three-quarters as large as the deficit in 2009 when measured relative to the size of the economy," the report noted.
So the deficit is shrinking, but it’s nowhere near half the level from 2009.
PolitiFact Florida previously asked the Obama campaign about the pledge. The campaign pointed us to Obama’s response when asked about it by an Atlanta TV station in February 2012.
"Well, we're not there because this recession turned out to be a lot deeper than any of us realized," he said. "Everybody who is out there back in 2009, if you look back at what their estimates were in terms of how many jobs had been lost, how bad the economy had contracted when I took office, everybody underestimated it. …"
Romney reminded Obama during the debate, "you have said before you'd cut the deficit in half."
The statement is accurate. Obama made the pledge shortly after taking office in 2009. Today, the deficit is smaller, but it’s not half the size it was. We rate Romney’s statement True.
Congressional Budget Office, "An Update to the Budget and Economic Outlook: Fiscal Years 2012 to 2022," August 2012
PolitiFact Florida, "Crossroads GPS ad says Obama failed to keep pledge of halving the deficit," May 17, 2012
Congressional Budget Office, report, "Monthly Budget Review, November 2011," Nov. 7, 2011
Politifact, Truth-O-Meter article, "Tim Pawlenty says President Obama is going to break promise on deficit and will double it," June 24, 2011
PolitiFact Florida, "Obama promised to cut the deficit in half by the end of his first term but didn't," March, 8, 2012
PolitiFact Texas, "Republican consultant says Barack Obama promised to halve federal deficit in his first term," Dec. 2, 2011
Tampa Bay Times’ The Buzz blog, "Crossroads' new Florida ad says Obama has broken promises," May 16, 2012
YouTube.com, Obama’s remarks after fiscal responsibility summit, Feb. 23, 2009
Crossroads GPS’ Youtube video, "Obama’s Promise," May 16, 2012
Congressional Budget Office, Updated Budget Projections: Fiscal Years 2012 to 2022, March 2012
USA Today’s The Oval blog, "Obama budget to miss deficit goal," Feb. 10, 2012
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