U.S. Federal Deficits by President, Congress and Year

By Dave Van Zandt (12/17/15)

On 12/16/15 the Republican lead congress passed a new spending bill for fiscal year 2016.  This spending bill is being harshly criticized for increasing the deficit by 680 billion dollars.  The majority of this deficit is coming from unfunded tax cuts.  In other words, there wasn’t any restraint in neither spending, nor a lack of concern over racking up more debt.  Democrats have seized upon the opportunity to point out the hypocrisy of Republicans who are campaigning on Obama’s so called out of control national debt that stands at 18 trillion.

“If you’re concerned about the deficit, why do you write off all this money without an offset?” asked Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.). (Politico)

Appropriations Committee member Mike Honda (D-Calif.), who often hears Republicans on his panel balk at spending for Democratic priorities, said reading the tax deal was “like being in a candy store.” (Politico)

Throughout the years Republicans have always claimed they were the fiscally responsible party.  They have run their campaigns year after year on the promise to reduce wasteful spending and cut taxes, all the while reducing our debt.  At the same time they have accused Democrats of doing the exact opposite.  With this in mind I set out to find out just who is more fiscally responsible in controlling debt and deficits?  Fortunately, someone has already done exhaustive sourced research.  Here is a summary of their results:

(All data has been adjusted to 1983 dollars to account for inflation and is rounded)
(All data from the Department of Treasury)

Largest deficit in US history: 2008-2009 George W. Bush (R) + Democratic Congress= -933 billion
Largest surplus in US history: 1946-1947 Harry S. Truman (D) + Split Congress= +267 billion
President who lowered the deficit most during term: Barack H. Obama (D)= -804 billion
President who increased the deficit most during term: George W. Bush (R)= +942 billion
Largest President debt during term: George W. Bush (R)= -2.26 trillion
Largest President surplus during term: Harry S. Truman (D)= +436 billion

In 105 years, 5 out of 8 Democrat Presidents have reduced the deficit compared to the first year they took office.

2 out of 9 Republican Presidents have reduced deficits compared to their first year.

Since 1950 democratically controlled congresses have increased deficits 27 times compared to 18 times for Republicans.***

Since 1950 democratically controlled congresses have had a surplus 14 times compared to 3 times for Republicans.***

***Since 1950 Democrats have controlled congress significantly more, Democrats 43 years and Republicans 21 years.  For statistical accuracy the Democratic Congress has increased the deficit 62% of the years and Republicans 86% of the years.

Results:  Statistically Democrats have a better track record with debt and deficits.




Department of Treasury

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