The Facts About Budget Deficits: How The Presidents Truly Rank

by alexvanbuskirk

The Facts About Budget Deficits: How The Presidents Truly Rank

By James K. Glassman @ Forbes (July 11, 2012)

We can average the deficit-to-GDP ratio during a presidential term and get a good take on whether “deficits were enormous” in historic terms or not. The only tricky part is whether to give a president credit (or blame) for his incoming and outgoing years. For example, President Reagan took office on Jan. 20, 1980, but fiscal year 1980 started four months earlier. Similarly, he left office Jan. 20, 1989, but fiscal 1989 still had four months to run.

Here are the ratios of deficit to GDP for the past five presidents:

Ronald Reagan
1981-88 4.2 %
1982-89 4.2
Average 4.2

George H. W. Bush
1989-92 4.0
1990-93 4.3
Average 4.2

Bill Clinton
1993-2000 0.8
1994-2001 0.1
Average 0.5

George W. Bush
2001-08 2.0
2002-09 3.4
Average 2.7

Barack Obama
2009-12* 9.1
2010-12 8.7
Average 8.9
*fiscal 2012 ends Sept. 30, 2012, so this figure is estimated

Americans can judge for themselves whether deficits are “enormous”– but only if they have the facts. In this case, there is no denying the order in which the last five presidents rank on the basis of deficits: Clinton, Bush 43, Bush 41 and Reagan in a virtual tie, and Obama.