National Debt Has Increased $4 Trillion Under President Obama

CBS News White House Correspondent Mark Knoller tells the sad tale:

The latest posting by the Treasury Department shows the national debt has now increased $4 trillion on President Obama’s watch.

The debt was $10.626 trillion on the day Mr. Obama took office. The latest calculation from Treasury shows the debt has now hit $14.639 trillion.

It’s the most rapid increase in the debt under any U.S. president.

The national debt increased $4.9 trillion during the eight-year presidency of George W. Bush. The debt now is rising at a pace to surpass that amount during Mr. Obama’s four-year term.

The raw numbers, courtesy of the Treasury Department’s Debt To The Penny Calculator, tell the sad tale:

  • On January 20, 2009, the total outstanding National Debt stood at $10,626,877,048,913.08.
  • On August 19, 2011, the number was $14,639,239,567,874.38
  • That’s an increase of $4,012,362,518,961.3 over the 942 days of the Obama Presidency that had elapsed between those two days, or an increase of $4,259,408,194.23 per day
  • If that trend continues the national debt will be $16,854,131,828,872.13 at the end of President Obama’s current term, and $25,292,019,461,634.69 on Inauguration Day 2017.

Currently the National Debt stands at roughly 97% of Gross Domestic Product. Does anyone want to pretend that the ratio will be the same when we’re talking about $25 trillion in debt?

FILED UNDER: Deficit and Debt, Economics and Business, US Politics, , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Ben Wolf says:

    The ratio is not economically relevant, despite what some “economists” continue to preach in their unending quest to scare the American people into slitting their own throats through austerity. We don’t have a long-term debt problem, we have a jobs problem.

  2. Jay Tea says:

    Another relevant datum: on January 20, 2009, the Democrats had held both Houses of Congress for two years, and kept that until January of this year — when they lost one of those Houses.


  3. john personna says:

    It isn’t so much that your data is wrong, just that it is squinting at the elephant, to make sure you just see it like a blind man.

    I’d counter with this:

    From Voodoo Economics to Pooh-Poohing Economics

    It begins:

    It is said that any organization needs to understand and agree upon its problems, before it can develop solutions to them.

    The developed world, its inhabitants – and particularly its governments and political leadership – are having a devil of a time understanding (to say nothing of agreeing upon) the unprecedented set of economic facts that are facing us. Accordingly, the solutions proffered thus far have fallen far from being successful as we have been working at solving the wrong set of problems.

    It’s a good piece, and while we may not agree with the unnamed author, he at least tries. He doesn’t just just [count the total] “under President Obama” and call it an analysis of world economic conditions.

  4. Robert in SF says:

    I don’t understand why some keep posting the debt from 1/20/09 (the day *President* Obama was inaugurated). Isn’t the first two-thirds of that year’s fiscal budget approved by his predecessor, President Bush?

    Media Matters cites the following:
    In a budget report released on January 7, 2009 — before [President] Obama took office — CBO stated: “The ongoing turmoil in the housing and financial markets has taken a major toll on the federal budget. CBO currently projects that the deficit this year will total $1.2 trillion, or 8.3 percent of GDP.”

    CBO further stated:
    A drop in tax revenues and increased federal spending (much of it related to the government’s actions to address the crisis in the housing and financial markets) both contribute to the robust growth in this year’s deficit. Compared with receipts last year, collections from corporate income taxes are anticipated to decline by 27 percent and individual income taxes by 8 percent; in normal economic conditions, they would both grow by several percentage points. In addition, the estimated deficit includes outlays of more than $180 billion to reflect the cost of transactions of the TARP. [Congressional Budget Office, January 2009; Associated Press, 1/7/09]

    “Nine Straight Years Of Deficits” Are Largely The Result Of “The Bush-Era Tax Cuts, War Spending In Iraq And Afghanistan, And Recessions.” From a July 23 New York Times article…

  5. superdestroyer says:

    @Robert in SF:

    The Democrats had control of the House and Senate starting in January 2007. Those massive budget deficits in 2008 and 2009 were approved by a U.S House lead by Nancy Pelosi and a U.S. Senate lead by Sen. Harry Reid.

    To claim that Democrats had nothing to do with it until well after January 2009 is wrong.

  6. john personna says:


    And to make a costs analysis that does not examine the global economic cycle, starting with the crash in 2007-2008 is totally insane. You do yourself no favors.

  7. superdestroyer says:

    @john personna:

    And what caused the global economic cycle. Governments promoting growth bubbles to get short term gains without any thought to the long term consequences. It happened during the dotcom boom and it happened during the real estate boom.

    Instead of claiming that more debt and more short term thinking is going to fix the problem, why not accept that things are not good, that the U.S. had to takes its “medicine” for being such idiots in the past, and think about nothing but the long term.

  8. john personna says:


    And what caused the global economic cycle. Governments promoting growth bubbles to get short term gains without any thought to the long term consequences. It happened during the dotcom boom and it happened during the real estate boom.

    Partial credit. Did you read the “Voodoo” piece above? It is much more intellectually challenging than a total from 2009 (or 2007) forward.

    The other piece is globalization and free trade. Together, globalization and debt, make the pattern that affected all established market democracies.

    It is the _commonality_ between US and Europe that exposes the problems, not the isolated politics in the US or Europe.

  9. Hey Norm says:

    Hey Doug,
    Drawing a line in the sand related to a continuously evolving situation is a rather pointless exercise without understanding what came before, and/or after the line in the sand. Wouldn’t it be more useful to try and gain an understanding of what that debt consists of? My suspicion is that the lions share of that debt increase is due to continuing obligations made prior to 1.20.09. If I’m wrong – show me.
    Certainly the largest portion of deficit spending going forward is directly attributable to Bush 43.
    Of course it could be your motivation is simply to mislead in order to make the current President look bad…in which case I’m sure you have made folks like JTea and Jan and Drew damp with excitement this morning.

  10. Hey Norm says:

    To continue….
    According to eliminating the impact of the Bush tax cuts, the effects of the 07-08 recession, the TARP/fiscal stimulus programs made necessary by the 07-08 recession, and the Iraq/Afghanistan War spending, which account for about $951 billion of this years deficit, the “normalized” deficit is about $510 billion. (Note that the $510B still includes Medicare Part D – another costly giveaway by Mr. Bush.) $510 is roughly 1/3rd of the $1.5T +/- 2011 deficit. Considering that the debt is made up of yearly deficits, it’s logical to assume that 66% of the debt increase is attributable to Bush 43. Now there are a bunch of assumptions here…but I’m betting it’s close. If anyone has better numbers from a reputable source I’d like to see them.

  11. Rick Almeida says:

    Can someone explain why the ratio of our entire national debt to one year’s GDP is an important metric?

  12. john personna says:

    @Rick Almeida:


    In economics, the debt-to-GDP ratio is one of the indicators of the health of an economy. It is the amount of national debt of a country as a percentage of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP). A low debt-to-GDP ratio indicates an economy that produces a large number of goods and services and probably profits that are high enough to pay back debts. Governments aim for low debt-to-GDP ratios and can stand-up to the risks involved by increasing debt as their economies have a higher gdp and profit margin.

  13. Rob in CT says:

    The situation is sub-optimal, it’s true. Given the fact that this Pres inherited a ~$1T deficit in the wake of a massive financial panic, however, I simply cannot work up outrage at him for this. There are a bunch of legacy problems at work here.

    This sort of thing is just an attempt to pretend that the disastrous policies the GOP pursued recently don’t matter, and pin everything on Obama. It works on those who are predisposed to believe it. It does not work on me.

    The first memory I have of being annoyed at Bush & the GOP was when they started cutting taxes w/o cutting spending. At first they at least had a recession on their hands and argued that the tax cuts would be stimulative – ok, even though there are economists who argue that tax cuts are poor stimulus. This was before the Iraq debacle. Then came *more* tax cuts (2003), while spending was rising and the economy was doing ok (no need for stimulus). I was flabbergasted. I wasn’t paying attention to Medicare Part D when that got passed, but it fits the pattern of not wanting to pay for anything. Having your cake and eating it too.

    Now they’re trying to pin all of that on Obama. Obama & the Dems have their own policies to answer for: the auto bailouts (I was against, but they weren’t disasterous), the stimulus (weak, poorly targetted, largely countered out by state and local cuts), Fed policy (I’m no expert, but I’d go with “ineffectual” here), Afghanistan (he doubled down, for better or worse – I think worse), Libya and the ACA (which mostly hasn’t kicked in yet).

  14. john personna says:

    @Rob in CT:

    The globalization and debt pattern goes back decades, and spans too many countries to be a problem with a specific leader.

    I actually spent some time ragging on GWB because I thought he should have seen the bridge out ahead, but he only piled on speed. That said, he didn’t blow up the bridge. It was out for most of the established market democracies.

    The bridge is still out, and that is the real problem. We have a problem and we have a hard time even talking about it. Or worse, we split the problem. It’s OK for Republicans to talk about debt, and it’s OK for Democrats to talk about globalization. In a perfect example of polarization and dysfunction, we can never integrate those issues. Everyone is too busy saying the elephant is all tree, or all wall. Everyone squints to see just a part.

  15. William Teach says:

    @Robert in SF: So, Robert, can we assume, since you hate the Bush tax cuts (or, are they the Obama tax cuts now?) so much, you’ve voluntarily paid the higher 2000 rate?

    We all know the answer to the question is “no”. All you liberals talk a big game, but, like with the climate change hoax, you refuse to practice what you preach.

  16. William Teach says:

    BTW, it should be pointed out (along with Democrats controlling the Senate for 4 of Bush’s 8 years, and the Dems holding the house Bush’s last 2 years), that Conservatives were VERY unhappy with the big spending by Bush and Republicans, hence their low ratings during that time period. The TEA Party didn’t arise simply because of Obama and his policies, but, as a final straw to the prolific spending during this century.

  17. Robert in SF says:

    I never know when to respond to personal references from someone, but I guess that when they set up a straw man position that I didn’t take, and then tackle that instead of the point I made…I don’t dignify it with a personal response.

    As for the statements re: Democrat’s being in “control” of Congress, that was never in dispute…it was just never raised in the original article. Just “blame Obama”, as its focus.

    Also, I have yet to see a citation that the “conservatives” were unhappy with President Bush when he was in office because of his big spending and undeclared wars.. I believed (no, no citations) that it was due to his not being aggressive enough with tax cuts or in his dealings with immigration.

  18. Hey Norm says:

    What total friggin’ BS…
    – There was no Tea Party prior to Obama…the Tea Party came to be because of a fear of people that don’t look like the wealthy white elderly suburban members of the Tea Party…oooh the scary black man…oooh the scary Muslims and their Sharia Law…oooh the scary Mexicans come to take our jobs…and people like the Koch Brothers and Dick Armey manipulating those irrational fears to their personal benefit.
    – As for voluntarily paying extra taxes…I tell you what…I’ll pay extra taxes when Republicans like Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry return the Stimulus Money they railed against, and then stood in line to collect. And when you stop wearing Silly Pirate Outfits.

  19. TheColourfield says:

    He inherits a massive deficit and it”s his fault?

    My God that is weak. At least make a valid argument Doug.

  20. Ian says:


    If you guys were unhappy with Bush’s spending, you hid it very well. The only times you ever went against him in any meaningful way was Harriet Miers and that immigration bill. Since Bush wouldn’t listen to liberals or moderates, conservatives had a special duty to rein in Bush’s excesses, and they failed. To paraphrase a slur that conservatives used whenever liberals failed to line up behind Bush, I guess you just hated liberals more than you loved America.

  21. gVOR08 says:

    @Rick Almeida:
    Innumeracy. It’s essentially the same as saying ‘we’re 100 miles from NY and we’re driving 70 miles per hour, so we can’t get there.’

  22. Drew says:

    “Can someone explain why the ratio of our entire national debt to one year’s GDP is an important metric?”

    Its a proxy for leverage, and in turn, debt service capability.

    Any commercial loan looks at these statistics before extending/determining how much credit, and a covenant package that measures both.

    It has been said on this cite that for a sovereign this doesn’t matter (because they can print money), but as the current plight of numerous sovereigns, and the good old USA debt rating demonstrate, that just ain’t so.

  23. Hey Norm says:

    “…as the current plight of numerous sovereigns, and the good old USA debt rating demonstrate, that just ain’t so…”

    Please Drew, explain this to us. For instance which sovereigns, that are able to print theri own money, do you mean? And explain how the USA debt rating has been affected by the debt?

  24. bandit says:

    I’ll sum up all the Obama bootlickers comments in 1 sentence:

    It’s someone elses fault.

  25. Ian says:

    I’ll sum up all the GOP bootlickers comments in 1 sentence:

    It’s everyone else’s fault but ours.

  26. Rob in CT says:

    Conservatives were VERY unhappy with the big spending by Bush and Republicans

    Bullshit. Conservatives mostly discovered the deficit on 1/20/09.

  27. Rob in CT says:

    The demand that liberals voluntarily pay higher taxes thing is hilarious. As if Conservatives don’t complain about entitlement spending whilst taking their Social Security, Medicare, etc.

    I’m willing to pay higher taxes if others just as well-off as I am also pay more.

    Similarly, a conservative who advocates for cuts to Medicare is under no obligation to refuse Medicare – you play the game under the rules as they are presently, even if you advocate for change.

    Grow up.

  28. john personna says:

    @Hey Norm:

    Please Drew, explain this to us. For instance which sovereigns, that are able to print theri own money, do you mean? And explain how the USA debt rating has been affected by the debt?

    I’ll step up. The measure is much more ancient than this crisis and was accepted long before it. It was never meant to be a point measure to match point conditions. It highlights trends. When you have a recession, debt to GDP will always increase, because revenue falls as spending automatically increases. No one is sure where the redline is, beyond which the engine blows up, but there is good evidence that there is one. On the other hand, falling debt to GDP is just about always safe.

    So. I’d answer your debt question with another. Are you worried? What happens if all this panic money flows back out of US treasuries? What would happen to the Fed balance sheet if they had to borrow the same debt, next year, at 4%? Or God help us, 8%?

  29. jukeboxgrad says:

    Wow, who knew that Cato Institute was to the left of CBS News. That darn liberal media. Cato said this:

    Don’t Blame Obama for Bush’s 2009 Deficit …critics sometimes blame Obama for things that are not his fault. …The 2009 fiscal year began October 1, 2008, nearly four months before Obama took office. The budget for the entire fiscal year was largely set in place while Bush was in the White House.

    FY09 ended on 9/30/09. Spending for the period 1/20/09 through 9/30/09 “was largely set in place while Bush was in the White House.” Therefore the debt added during that period is Bush’s responsibility, not Obama’s.

    CBS said “the debt was $10.626 trillion on the day Mr. Obama took office.” (That happens to be slightly wrong, because the exact number is 10,626,877,048,913.08, which rounds to 10.627, not 10.626, but what’s a billion dollars between friends.) The debt on 9/30/09 was $11.9T. The difference is $1.3T. So a fair analysis says that Obama has added $2.7T to the debt, not $4T.

    Various conservative sources (link) have done something even more deceptive than what CBS did. Those sources treat the entire FY09 as Obama’s responsibility, even though it started before he was even elected, and even though the portion after he took office should be also considered Bush’s responsibility. In one of the examples you can see via that link, Heritage Foundation directly and explicitly labels FY09 as “Obama’s budget.” I think that qualifies as a lie, since the budget for FY09 was created by Bush. In February 2008, before Obama had even been nominated.

    I realize Robert made essentially the same point.

  30. jukeboxgrad says:

    The link for finding the debt on any day is here.

  31. anjin-san says:

    Another relevant datum: In 2002, Cheney said “deficits don’t matter”. Guys like Jay responded by condemning his statement in the harshest terms standing in a really long line for an opportunity to kiss his ass.

  32. jukeboxgrad says:

    Conservatives did indeed defend Cheney for saying “deficits don’t matter.” An example of the Weekly Standard defending that statement is here. IOKIYAR.

  33. AR Masse says:

    @Ben Wolf: I realize that the deficit has increased 4 trillion since Obama took office. Will someone calculate and post how much of that is interest accumulation from the 10 trillion he inherited. And Iam independent I vote person not party.

  34. AR Masse says:

    @Jay Tea: How much of the 4 trillion debt under
    obama is interest from the 10 trillion he inherited? How much of the 4 trillion has been spent on the 10 year iraq war that produced no WMD and was suppose to bring stability to the middle east?