By Mary O’Leary, Staff Reporter

Michael Clark, one of five Republicans running for the 5th District, says there are 14.2 trillion reasons for him to run for office, referring to the national debt. Readers have asked how the current debt and growing deficits rate historically.

Andrew Roraback

One of his opponents, Andrew Roraback, had this to say about the debt:

“This administration, which seems intent on leading our nation down the path to insolvency, has grown our national debt from $10 trillion to $15 trillion in just the past three years. This equates to $48,000 for every man, woman and child in America.”

At this point, Clark actually has nearly 15.4 trillion reasons to seek office as the gross federal debt had grown to this amount by the end of January 2012.

Roraback is correct on his debt calculation per individual, but there are several ways to look at it and how we got here, according to an analysis by posted in February 2012.

In terms of increases under different presidents, the federal debt jumped 190 percent under Ronald Reagan; 52 percent under George H.W. Bush; 37 percent under Bill Clinton; 86 percent under George W. Bush and 45 percent under Barack Obama, according to U.S. Treasury data.

The debt under Obama increased by $4.7 trillion in three years, while it grew by $4.9 trillion during George W. Bush’s eight years in office.

It was $10.6 trillion when Obama assumed office in January 2009 and it was nearly $15.4 trillion by the end of January this year.

If it grows to $16 trillion by Sept. 30, as projected by the Congressional Budget Office, it will be the largest dollar increase of any president, the website said, approaching the historic high set in World War II.

In terms of gross federal debt as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product, it was 122 percent of GDP in 1946 during World War II and in 2012 it is estimated to be 105 percent of GDP, according to the federal Office of Management and Budget as cited by

The debt to Gross Domestic Product ratio compares a country’s debt to its total economic output for the year.

In addition to the debt the government has borrowed from the public, the gross federal debt includes the money the government owes itself, which are funds collected mainly for Social Security but used for other purposes.

The CBO said the gross federal debt “is not a good indicator of the government’s future obligations.” If you just limit the debt to that which is borrowed from the public, it still is high coming in at nearly 68 percent of GDP for fiscal 2011, with 73 percent projected for fiscal 2012 and 75 percent in fiscal 2013.

FactCheck said the rise in deficits began many years before the current president assumed office with the trend starting in fiscal 1982 under Reagan, dropping from 1997-2001 under Clinton and inching up from 2001 through 2008 under George W. Bush.

“Back in 2000, the CBO said we were on target to eliminate the debt,” said a spokesman at FactCheck. “It’s hard to believe where we are today.”

This melds into a discussion of whether the country has a spending problem or a revenue problem.

The context provided by FactCheck, in a separate analysis posted in July 2011, laid out some statistics to consider as the country fought two wars and entered two recessions from 2001-2008.

Federal spending was 24.1 percent of GDP in fiscal 2011, while it was 25 percent in fiscal 2009, the highest since 1945 during World War II. At the same time, federal revenues were on target to drop to 14.8 percent of GDP in 2011, while they were 14.9 percent in 2009 and 2010.

FactCheck said only in 1950, were revenues lower, when they came in at 14.4 percent of GDP.

“These historically high rates of spending and low rates of taxation have combined to produce a chain of deficits that are also the highest since WWII,” FactCheck reported.

During World War II, taxes jumped to pay for the war, but spending increased even faster, resulting in a deficit. Recently however, Congress has boosted spending while reducing taxes.

In the 1990s, revenue went up, which can be attributed to a 1993 tax increase, with spending dropped due to the “absolute decline in military spending following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.”

This was followed by a string of government surpluses from fiscal 1998-2001 under Clinton, but the deficits began in 2002 under Bush “and there is no end in sight,” FactCheck reports.

Income tax receipts dropped after the Bush tax cuts from 10.2 percent of GDP in 2000 to 6.2 percent of GDP in 2010, with military and homeland security spending since Sept. 11, 2001 increasing from 3 percent of GDP to 4.8 percent.

Both Bush and Obama contributed to the non-military spending. Bush approved the prescription drug benefit for seniors in 2003 and the banking bailout of 2008; Obama approved the stimulus plan in 2009 and health care reform in 2010.

The two recent recessions  the first in 2001 that lasted nine months and the Great Recession that began in December 2007 through June 2009 – also took their toll with high unemployment “holding back both wages and taxes that jobless workers would have paid on them.”

The analysis does not assign blame.

“There is plenty of blame to go around, some of which rest with an American public that won’t accept cuts in the largest categories of public spending and also resists tax increases on anybody but ‘the rich,’” FactCheck reported.

Is there a statement by a candidate in the 5th District that you want Fact Checked? Contact Mary O’Leary at