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Trump national debt, deficit compared to Obama, Bush, Clinton



The US national debt passed the $22 trillion mark on February 11, the first time in history that the federal debt had ever breached that threshold.

The landmark came just over two years after President Donald Trump, who once promised to eliminate the federal debt in eight years, took over the Oval Office.

But compared to some other recent presidents, Trump’s debt accumulation is not as stunning as it first appears.

Read more:The US national debt just topped $22 trillion for the first time in history»

The US Treasury has been tracking day-by-day debt accumulation since the start of 1993, meaning daily debt figures are available for Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Trump.

In raw terms, Trump added the second-most debt of any recent president. According to the Treasury data, the US added $2.07 trillion — $2,065,536,336,472.90 to be exact — in new debt between Trump’s inauguration on January 20, 2017 and February 11, when the country pushed past $22 trillion. (The US added another $2.8 billion through February 15, the latest daily figures available.)

That is less than the $3.46 trillion added between Obama’s inauguration in January 2009 and February 11, 2011 but more than the $676 billion added under Bush and the $617 billion added under Clinton in their first 752 days as president.

One important difference between Trump and Obama’s debt figures is that Trump has added a massive amount of debt while the US economy has been strong, whereas Obama took over during the depths of the financial crisis.

Economists typically recommend that the federal government increase spending, and thus add more debt, during times of economic struggles and then pay down that debt when the economy recovers. So while economic theory would support Obama’s spending to help support the economy, Trump’s recent debt binge has less support among economists.

Looking ahead, recent legislative changes are expected to help Trump catch up to some of his predecessors in the debt accumulation department.

The combination of the new GOP tax reform law— named the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) — and the recent bipartisan spending deal are projected to increase the speed of debt accumulation over the rest of Trump’s presidency.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the annual deficit — the shortfall of federal revenues compared to spending in a given fiscal year — will soon push past $1 trillion. Also, 2018’s budget deficit was the largest since 2012, when the US was still dealing with the fallout from the recession.

Based on the CBO’s projections, Trump will have accumulated $3.73 trillion in new debt by the end of fiscal year 2020 — which, due to federal budget rules, actually runs until the end of September 2020. And by the end of fiscal 2024, the last year of Trump’s potential second term, the total debt added is projected to come in at $8.78 trillion.

A lot could still change over that time period — adjustments to the tax code that increase revenue or spending cuts would alter the CBO’s projections. But as it stands, Trump could add roughly the same amount of debt as Obama over two terms.

Andy Kiersz/Business Insider

But while the raw debt figures are astonishing, putting the accumulation in percentage terms provides a somewhat different picture. Based on Treasury data and CBO projections:

  • The national debt grew by 15% through February 11 of Clinton’s first term and ended up growing by 36% by the end of the 2000 fiscal year, the final full fiscal year of his presidency.
  • The debt grew by 12% during Bush’s first 752 days and grew by 75% when fiscal year 2008 came to a close.
  • Under Obama’s first two years and change, the national debt grew by 33% and increased 84% by the end of fiscal year 2016.
  • The debt grew 10% in Trump’s first 752 days and is projected to grow by 44% by the end of fiscal year 2024, the end of Trump’s theoretical second term.

Andy Kiersz/Business Insider

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