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PolitiFact: Spending freeze won't bring deficit to level Obama touted

The statement

The president's proposed budget "will help reduce the deficit by $400 billion over the next decade to the lowest level since Dwight Eisenhower was president."

President Barack Obama, on Tuesday in a speech in Cleveland

The ruling

Using the summary tables from Obama's budget proposal, we found that the deficit for fiscal year 2011 is expected to be $1.645 trillion, while in 2021 — the end of the decade-long span the president referenced in Cleveland — the projected deficit is $774 billion. So the president actually underestimated the size of the decline in the deficit — it's actually set to fall by $871 billion over the 10-year period rather than by $400 billion.

As for the Eisenhower comparison, there are at least two obvious ways to look at this — by the size of the deficit in dollars and by the size of the deficit as a percentage of gross domestic product.

Using dollar amounts, Obama projects a deficit of $774 billion for 2021. From 1961 to 2011, the dollar amount of the deficit (not adjusted for inflation) was lower than that in every single year except for 2009, 2010 and 2011. So using this measure, the president's comparison is way off.

Using deficits as a percentage of GDP. Obama's budget projects that the deficit in 2021 will represent 3.1 percent of GDP. From 1961 to 2011, the percentage was lower than 3.1 percent in 32 out of the 51 years. So by this measure, too, Obama's comparison is way off.

In fact, in five years — one under President Richard Nixon and four under President Bill Clinton — the federal government ran a surplus. So those years alone would have made the president's claim incorrect.

When we showed this comment to economists on the left and right, they agreed that the president was so far off that it was hard to believe he meant the comment as he said it. And indeed, about an hour and a half after we initially contacted the White House, Obama changed his statement when he made his closing comments in Cleveland.

'We've also got to get our fiscal house in order," he said, "and that's why I've put forth a budget that includes a five-year spending freeze that will help reduce the deficit by $400 billion and will get annual domestic spending down to the lowest levels since Dwight Eisenhower."

So the president meant to say something different and then rephrased the statement several hours later. We give his initial statement a rating of False.

Edited for print. For more, go to

PolitiFact: Spending freeze won't bring deficit to level Obama touted 02/23/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 23, 2011 10:31pm]
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