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U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Wis., joined by his wife, Rachel Campos-Duffy, spoke on the first night of the 2016 Republican National Convention. (AP photo) U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Wis., joined by his wife, Rachel Campos-Duffy, spoke on the first night of the 2016 Republican National Convention. (AP photo)

U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Wis., joined by his wife, Rachel Campos-Duffy, spoke on the first night of the 2016 Republican National Convention. (AP photo)

Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher July 19, 2016

GOP Rep. Sean Duffy exaggerates role of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton on federal debt

Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. gave a stern speech about crime and violence against police on the first night of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

He was followed immediately by another Wisconsinite, U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy, who began his remarks on July 18, 2016 with a big smile and a: "Hello, America!"

Duffy, joined by his wife, conservative activist Rachel Campos-Duffy, remained light-hearted throughout their presentation. But they also made partisan jabs, including this one by Duffy:

"Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have left us with $19 trillion in debt."

We asked three federal budget experts, including Robert Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, about Duffy’s claim. "It’s sort of garden-variety political exaggeration," Bixby said.

Here’s why.

Debt figures

The U.S. Treasury Department’s "Debt to the Penny" calculator shows the total federal debt is nearly $19.4 trillion.

That includes nearly $14 trillion in debt held by the public -- by individuals, corporations, Federal Reserve banks, foreign governments, and other entities -- and $5.4 trillion in what are known as intragovernmental holdings.

So, Duffy is correct on the overall figure.

But many factors bear on how it got there. And, the experts said, it’s really not possible to calculate how much any one of them is responsible for the debt.

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Bixby; Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget; and Rudolph Penner, a fellow at the Urban Institute and former director of the Congressional Budget Office, told us:

1. About half of the $19 trillion was amassed before Obama took office in January 2009.

2. Obama took office amid a deep recession, which meant government revenues fell and spending on government programs rose.

"The debt would have exploded certainly during (Obama’s) first term, no matter who was president," said Bixby.

3. Obama proposed federal budgets, but Congress, including the Republican leadership, ultimately holds the purse strings.

Obama bears some of the responsibility for not taking steps to prevent the debt from growing, "but attributing the debt to a president doesn’t make sense," said MacGuineas.

Meanwhile, Clinton, as Obama’s secretary of state, made budget requests for her department. But that’s a tiny amount of the overall federal budget and the secretary of state has virtually nothing to do with overall fiscal policy.

Our rating

Duffy said: "Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have left us with $19 trillion in debt."

The total federal debt is at $19 trillion. But most of it was amassed before Obama took office. And many factors -- Congress, the economy and Obama himself, but to almost no extent Clinton -- played a role in the debt increases during Obama’s tenure.

For a claim that contains some element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression, our rating is Mostly False.

https://www.sharethefacts.co/share/212be74c-0104-4349-a8ef-bade8c9f88f1

Our Sources

Sean Duffy, Republican National Convention speech, July 18, 2016

U.S. Treasury,  "Debt to the Penny" calculator, accessed July 18, 2016

Email, Urban Institute fellow Rudolph Penner, July 19, 2016

Email, Sean Duffy spokesman Mark Bednar, July 19, 2016

Interview, Concord Coalition executive director Robert Bixby, July 19, 2016

Interview, Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget president Maya MacGuineas, July 19, 2016

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GOP Rep. Sean Duffy exaggerates role of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton on federal debt

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