Reagan Told Us How to Track the Debt

  The method for adding up the $12 T Republican debt, is simple. Just add up the dollars and don’t make any fancy economic adjustments. Is that the right way? I have chosen this method because it’s based on the Republican approach to debt and because it’s simple. It seems fair that they should be judged by their own rules.

From Reagan’s first speech as President: “A trillion dollars would be a stack of thousand-dollar bills 67 miles high. The interest on the public debt this year we know will be over $90 billion, and unless we change the proposed spending for the fiscal year beginning October 1st, …

Well he changed it all right, and when he left office the stack of $1000 bills was 191 miles high.

So what did Reagan tell us about calculating his debt? (1) Start on October 1, 1981, and (2) Don’t forget the interest costs of the debt.

October 1, 1981 is the beginning of his first budget year (fiscal year). He’s right. He is not responsible for Carter’s last budget year that runs until Oct. 1. But Reagan is responsible for his own last budget year, which ran until Sept. 30 1989. That’s eight years, which is right for two terms. Reagan was right and fair about this, and that’s what the spreadsheet above does.

And, like he said, the interest on the debt matters. And since he and Bush-I left us $3.4 Trillion of extra debt when Bush-I’s last budget year ended on Sept. 30, 1993, that debt started collecting interest, and it still is. Clinton, G.W. Bush and Obama are not responsible for that interest. So the spreadsheet actually over-states G.W. Bushes debt because quite a bit of that was interest on the Reagan-Bush-I debt. But shifting that responsibility to Reagan-Bush (as the graph shows) does not affect our total for Reagan and the Bushes.

G.W. Bush took control of the budget on Oct. 1, 2001, when the debt was $5.8 Trillion and his last budget year ended Oct. 1, 2009, with the debt at $11.9 Trillion. During that last year, Obama got a stimulus bill passed, but that’s the only significant change he was able to make in federal spending. (You can see it subtracted above.) Spending the stimulus money was slow, so only $36 Billion ($0.036 Trillion) contributed to Bush’s deficits. So instead of raising the debt $6.10 Trillion, he only raised it $6.06 Trillion.

About $0.2 Trillion is still left from WWII, and Obama has $1.25 Trillion that’s his. Of course half of that is from the Bush-II tax cuts and most of the rest is because of the Great Recession.