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House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said on "Fox News Sunday" that the deficit is "growing." Is that correct? House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said on "Fox News Sunday" that the deficit is "growing." Is that correct?

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said on "Fox News Sunday" that the deficit is "growing." Is that correct?

Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson August 5, 2013

Eric Cantor says the federal deficit is 'growing'

During an interview on Fox News Sunday, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., took aim at red ink in the federal government.

Cantor said, "What we are trying to do is fund the government and make sure also that we take away the kinds of things that are standing in the way of a growing economy (and) a better health care, and all the while keeping our eye focused on trying to deal with the ultimate problem, which is this growing deficit."

There’s one problem: The federal deficit isn’t "growing." At least not now.

First, a refresher on what a deficit is. If revenues are bigger than spending, you have a surplus. If spending is bigger than revenues, you have a deficit.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the federal deficit -- the amount by which the government has been spending more than it has been taking in -- has been declining since peaking in 2009:


Fiscal year


Deficit as percentage of GDP


$459 billion

3.2 percent


$1.413 trillion

10.1 percent


$1.294 trillion

9.0 percent


$1.296 trillion

8.7 percent


$1.089 trillion

7.0 percent

2013 (projected)

$ 642 billion

4.0 percent


So, the deficit trendline has been generally downward, both in raw dollars and as a percentage of gross domestic product. And the CBO projects that the deficit will continue to go down for two more years:


Fiscal year


Deficit as percentage of GDP

2014 (projected)

$560 billion

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3.4 percent

2015 (projected)

$378 billion

2.1 percent


If CBO is on target, then by 2015, the deficit will be roughly a quarter of what it was in 2009.

In other words, Cantor is wrong about what has been happening to the deficit, and what is projected to happen in the near future.

After 2015, however, Cantor has a point -- the deficit begins growing again, according to CBO projections:


Fiscal year


Deficit as percentage of GDP


$432 billion

2.3 percent


$482 billion

2.4 percent


$542 billion

2.6 percent


$648 billion

3.0 percent


$733 billion

3.2 percent


$782 billion

3.3 percent


$889 billion

3.6 percent


$895 billion

3.5 percent


"The current baseline has deficits growing again in 2016, and even with his proposed tax increases, deficits are set to begin growing again in the out-years under President Obama’s own budget proposals," said Rory Cooper, Cantor’s spokesman. Cantor, he said, "is equally concerned with this long-term deficit trend" as he is with the shrinkage of the deficit in recent years.

We should also note that, despite the recent progress in shrinking the deficit, the federal debt continues to grow -- just more slowly than before. The debt refers to the accumulation of all prior yearly deficits, offset by any yearly surpluses. So until there’s a surplus -- and there hasn’t been one since fiscal 2001 -- the debt keeps growing.

The public debt is projected to grow from $11.3 trillion in fiscal 2012 to higher than $19 trillion in 2023. As a percentage of GDP, the rise is more modest, from 72.6 percent of GDP in 2012 to 72.9 percent in 2023, according to CBO.

Our ruling

Cantor said that the federal deficit is "growing." Annual federal deficits are not growing right now, and they are not projected to grow through 2015, a point at which the deficit will have shrunk by three-quarters since 2009. By this standard, Cantor is wrong. However, unless policies are changed, deficits are projected to grow again in 2016 and beyond, according to the CBO. On balance, we rate his claim Half True.

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Eric Cantor says the federal deficit is 'growing'

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