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PolitiFact: Obama says Reagan raised debt ceiling 18 times; George W. Bush seven times

The statement

"President Reagan did it (raised the debt ceiling) 18 times. George W. Bush did it seven times."

President Barack Obama, Monday, in a televised address

The ruling

In a televised address to the nation to discuss the pending deadline on the debt ceiling, President Barack Obama made his pitch for a "balanced" approach to reducing the deficit — one that includes spending cuts as well as revenue increases from tax increases for wealthier Americans.

With the debt ceiling issue caught in a political deadlock over how to reduce the deficit, Obama noted that raising the debt ceiling has been a relatively routine exercise for decades.

"In the past, raising the debt ceiling was routine," Obama said. "Since the 1950s, Congress has always passed it, and every president has signed it. President Reagan did it 18 times. George W. Bush did it seven times. And we have to do it . . . or else we won't be able to pay all of our bills."

Here, we are looking at Obama's claim that, "President Reagan did it 18 times. George W. Bush did it seven times."

We'll go straight to the White House Office of Management and Budget, which keeps tabs on when the debt ceiling has been raised.

Among its historical tables is one labeled "Statutory Limits on Federal debt 1940 — Current." The table lists 106 increases to the limit since 1940.

Specifically, it lists 18 increases to the debt ceiling between February 1981 and September 1987, making 18 under President Ronald Reagan, as Obama said. And there were seven increases between January 2001 and January 2009 — during George W. Bush's presidency.

We would be remiss if we failed to note Obama opposed one of George W. Bush's increases and criticized Bush for a lack of leadership.

"The fact that we are here today to debate raising America's debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the U.S. government can't pay its own bills," Obama said before a March 16, 2006, vote on raising the debt limit. The Senate approved raising the limit along partisan lines, 52-48. (Obama said in April that he regrets his position in 2006.)

Nonetheless, Obama is correct that raising the debt ceiling has been an issue repeatedly tackled by Republicans and Democrats alike. President Reagan raised it 18 times and George W. Bush did it seven times. We rate his claim True.

Robert Farley, Times staff writer

This ruling has been edited for print. For the full version, go to PolitiFact.com.

PolitiFact: Obama says Reagan raised debt ceiling 18 times; George W. Bush seven times 07/27/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 27, 2011 9:45pm]

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