Thursday, June 21, 2018
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PolitiFact: Mike Pence claims national debt has nearly doubled under President Obama

The statement

Says that under the Obama administration, "the debt has nearly doubled."

Mike Pence, Republican vice presidential candidate, Aug. 2 in a town hall

The ruling

Donald Trump's vice presidential pick, Mike Pence, reiterated many of his campaign partner's promises at a recent town hall in Phoenix.

From building a wall along the Southern border to fixing the economy, Pence also attacked Democrats, saying Hillary Clinton in the White House would equal a third term for President Barack Obama.

And that wouldn't be a good thing, he said.

"Under this administration, the debt has nearly doubled," Pence said.

Obama took office in January 2009 while America continued to reel from the recession.

We fact-checked a similar statement in April 2015. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., claimed the debt doubled under George W. Bush and is tripling under President Obama. We rated it Half True — the debt under Obama has tripled since Bush took office, but other factors affect debt.

But, we wondered, as Obama's presidency comes to a close, where are we now in terms of debt?

Pence spokesman Marc Lotter pointed us to the Treasury Department's Debt to the Penny clock, a real-time look at the nation's debt that goes back almost two decades.

On Jan. 20, 2009, when Obama took office, the gross federal debt (which includes both public and intragovernmental debt) was $10.63 trillion. As of Aug. 3, 2016, it is $19.4 trillion.

So the numbers check out.

But experts we spoke with still note that the debt cannot be pinned on just Obama. For one thing, Congress signs off on spending and taxation.

And, reining in government spending during the recession would have been a bad idea, economists told us.

George Washington University law professor Neil Buchanan noted that the economy was in "free fall" when Obama took office. In Arizona, the housing market crashed and key sector jobs, such as construction, dried up.

"Tax revenues were plummeting, because incomes were falling, while spending had to go up (for unemployment benefits, Medicaid, and so on)," Buchanan said. "Had we tried to balance the budget during that time, it would have accelerated the downturn, and there could have been a depression."

Moreover, according to Bucknell University economics professor Gregory Krohn, the Congressional Budget Office projected in January that debt held by the public would increase to 75.6 percent — up from 39.3 percent in 2008.

"Debt held by the public, a more meaningful measure, more than doubled from $6.4 trillion to $13.9 trillion over the same period," Krohn said.

So Pence's numbers are on the mark, but it is important to note that the debt cannot all be blamed on Obama.

We rate his claim Mostly True.

Read more rulings at PolitiFact.com.

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