Assessing Political Spin in the Debt Ceiling Fight

When Mr. Trump took office on Jan. 20, 2017, the national debt stood at $19.9 trillion. When he left office on Jan. 20, 2021, it was $27.8 trillion — an increase of $7.9 trillion or about a quarter of today’s total debt of $31.5 trillion.

It is difficult to estimate just how much individual spending packages added to the national debt, since costs can be financed through tapping into revenue streams such as tax collection or through borrowing, adding to the debt and incurring interest. But looking at how much bills added to the deficit is a good proxy.

The Peter G. Peterson Foundation, which promotes deficit reduction, estimated that the deficit increased by $7.1 trillion under Mr. Trump over a 10-year period. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, another deficit hawk, estimated that the figure was $7.9 trillion including interest.

From the 2018 to 2021 fiscal years, the government collected $14.3 trillion in revenue, and spent $21.9 trillion, according to data compiled by the Congressional Budget Office. In that time, mandatory spending on programs such as Social Security and Medicare totaled $14.7 trillion alone. Discretionary spending totaled about $5.8 trillion. And interest payments on existing debt also accounted for $1.4 trillion of spending.

How Times reporters cover politics. We rely on our journalists to be independent observers. So while Times staff members may vote, they are not allowed to endorse or campaign for candidates or political causes. This includes participating in marches or rallies in support of a movement or giving money to, or raising money for, any political candidate or election cause.

The C.B.O. estimated that Mr. Trump’s tax cuts — which passed in December 2017 with no Democrats in support — roughly added another $1 trillion to the federal deficit from 2018 to 2021, even after factoring in economic growth spurred by the tax cuts.

But other drivers of the deficit include several sweeping measures that had bipartisan approval. The first coronavirus stimulus package, which received near unanimous support in Congress, added $2 trillion to the deficit over the next two fiscal years. Three additional spending measures contending with Covid-19 and its economic ramifications added another $1.4 trillion.

What Was Said

“Joe Biden, for the last two years, went on a spending spree the likes of which our country has never seen, you know, $5 trillion in spending, a lot of it under the guise of Covid that had nothing to do with Covid.”
Representative Steve Scalise, Republican of Louisiana, at a Jan. 25 news conference

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