Reagan vs Obama – Deficit Edition!

1012895_10152166733436275_7088125268663356469_nDid Reagan triple the deficit? Did Obama cut it in half?

I see this one on social media pretty often, and keep meaning to discuss it, so here it is.

While I understand as most people do, that Congress controls spending and the budget [1], for the sake of this argument I’m going to keep it based on president, since that is what the claim is using. Later on I will write about Congress, debt, deficits, and Presidents. I will be basing it on the last budget of the outgoing president (which covers the first year of the incoming president), to the last budget of the current president. [2]

I’m going to compare deficits, and debt ceiling increases, and ignore the “compared to Hitler” part since it’s just conjecture, and I’ve heard pretty much every President in my lifetime compared to Hitler at one point or another, and has nothing to do with deficit or debt.

Reagan Deficits and Debt Ceilings


Reagan was in Office from Jan, 21 1981 until Jan 20, 1989. The deficit at the end 1981 was $78 billion dollars.  His last budget deficit was $152 billion dollars. So during his term he had a net increase of only double, not triple.  the deficit under Reagan reached $207 billion in 1983, two years after Reagan passed the Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981 [3] which reduced taxes, effectively reducing tax revenue. It turned out to be too much loss of revenue, combined with increased spending, so in 1982 the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982 [4] rescinded some of those cuts, and a few more laws in following years helped bring in more revenue, but with increased spending, decreased the budget deficit back to the $152 billion in 1989. Revenue doubled in Reagan’s 8 years, but so did spending, which in turn caused the doubling of the deficit. [5]


Debt Ceilings

There were actually 17 Debt ceiling increases under Reagan, not 18: [6]

September 30, 1981999.8
September 30, 19811,079.8
June 28, 19821,143.1
September 30, 19821,290.2
May 26, 19831,389.0
November 21, 19831,490.0
May 25, 19841,520.0
July 6, 19841,573.0
October 13, 19841,823.8
November 14, 19851,903.8
December 12, 19852,078.7
August 21, 19862,111.0
October 21, 19862,300.0
May 15, 19872,320.0
July 30, 19872,320.0
August 10, 19872,352.0
September 29, 19872,800.0

Obama Deficits and Debt Ceilings


Obama has been in office since Jan 21, 2009, and is currently (as of this writing) still in office. The deficit at the end of 2009 (Last budget under Bush) was $1.4 trillion Although the original budget under Bush would have only resulted in a $407 billion deficit (a reduction from the 2008 deficit of $459 billion) the decreased revenue from the recession (half a trillion less revenue and $600 billion more in spending in 2009 than in 2008), and added spending from the 2008 TARP [7] and 2009 Stimulus [8] increased the deficit to $1.4 trillion. In the following years, as the recession subsided, revenue began to increase again, while spending stayed the same. Revenue continued to increase from 2010 until 2014 (the latest budget) by almost a trillion dollars, while spending stayed about the same, which caused the deficit to decrease. The 2015, 2016 and 2017 (Last budget under Obama) Estimates show even more increases in revenue, and even more spending, while deficits stay at the post 2007 levels. So effectively Obama decreased the deficit not by reducing spending, or by reducing taxes, but by increasing tax revenue sustaining the half trillion dollar deficits. From 2009, until the current 2014, the deficit decreased by 2/3 after spiking to 1.4 trillion. [5]

2015 estimate3,176,0723,758,577-582,505
2016 estimate3,525,1793,999,467-474,288
2017 estimate3,754,9804,217,798-462,818

Debt Ceiling Increases

There have been 7 debt limit increases so far. [6]

February 17, 200912104
December 24, 200912394
February 12, 201014294
January 30, 201216394
May 19, 201316700
February 7, 201417,200 and  Auto adjust
March 15, 2015End of auto adjust



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  1. Jeff Christianson

    I learned at a very young age that a saver gets paid interest for merely having money and a debtor is required to pay interest when they borrow money. Thus for all of my adult life, I have always saved and avoided debt whenever possible. Then when I was in debt….to get debt free as soon as possible.
    I am in better shape than 99% of the public…yet I was never in the top 1% in terms of income.

    1. Wish i was as disciplined as you … Bravo on your success

    2. That may have worked back when a show at the corner theater cost a nickel, but in today’s world the only way to make a decent living is to either learn a vocation, which is impossible since public schools have done away with vocational programs, or get a university degree. Since university tuition has skyrocketed, the only way to get that degree is to take on massive debt. The millennial generation is the most in-debt generation in history, unable to buy houses, to invest, to recirculate money back into the economy and in many cases, unable to even get a job. Debt is a necessity now.

      1. “That may have worked back when a show at the corner theater cost a nickel,”
        No, actually it still works in today’s world.
        “Debt is a necessity now.”
        With that attitude, I am sure you feel that way, yet I and many others that I know are not in debt because as I said, when you are in debt, you pay interest, when you invest…they pay you interest.

    3. I was in your same boat, i had been debt free since i was 28 until 43. Paid my house off with everything i had and pay everything with cash including vehicles. HOWEVER my wife went to college and built up a tremendous amount of debt. Sad to say what effects her effects me. Its been hell/slavery ever since but mostly for her because its her debt. We could have enjoyed a substantial living without that college loan. Sad part about all this is that she cant even find a job in her field. Im even too embarrassed to say what its in.

  2. bja, the posts here lack an answer/follow-up to the posed questions. I suggest you more clearly answer the opening question, which is usually is the social media post true or false. Snopes has a clear green=true, red=false, or yellow=maybe. Don’t just discuss the issue. You can’t force the reader to figure it out themselves. We don’t have the time. I’ve read this and have a feeling you are agreeing with the social media post, but am still unsure.

    1. I did that at first when I started writing some of these things. but I felt like I was imposing an opinion sometimes. I’m trying to not have an opinion, but present the facts and let the readers make a decision. It was also presenting a problem with questions that were more than true, less than false, true but for different reasons, etc.. The last post I made I included a “Conclusion” which I guess would help with what you said. This post does in fact give an answer to each thing imposed by question.

      Did Reagan triple the deficit? ” which in turn caused the doubling of the deficit.” doubled, not tripled.

      Did Obama cut the deficit in half? “the deficit decreased by 2/3 “cut by 2/3, not half. ” so the image is wrong, he didn’t halve the deficit, it was more than half.

      See the dilemma? I guess I could explain that in the conclusion too, but simple true/false/maybe wouldn’t really work.

      1. Thanks very much for your answer.

        You wrote, “I felt like I was imposing an opinion sometimes” and “but present the facts.”

        Well, IMO, these phrases are counter to the scientific method. IMO, there are no “true” facts. There are only probabilities, and in this case opinions of what the facts are and are not. That’s why excluding your opinion is, ironically, arrogant, for it implicitly assumes that the facts you’ve shown are themselves unquestionable. In reality, you are discussing the issues, but not really furthering them either way very much. Here, nobody is wrong, and nobody is right. IMO, it is better to give more direct opinions so that it takes less time to make sense of your posts. It is also more scientific. Facts without good interpretation are like air. They can blow in any direction.

  3. So you are saying that the Tax Act of 1981, which was signed
    into law on for the loss of revenue from the previous year (1980, which you do
    not show), and that the increases in taxation from the Fiscal Responsibility
    Act of 1982, which was signed into law on September 3, was responsible for the
    increase in revenue (from 599,272 to 617,766)?
    I don’t think so! That is way too
    short of time for these acts to have any affect within the years they were
    signed into law. It is much more plausible that the tax increase had the effect of the lower revenue from 1982 (617,766) to 1983 (600,562).

    1. Tax revenues increased due to the economic recovery.

      1. If revenue increases happen when a tax increase is implemented, the tax will slow what possible increase would/could happen. Tax revenues increase due to the economic recovery either in spite of tax increases or because of tax decreases. A tax decrease will never be a cause of slowing an economy.

        1. What I’m said was in regard to the decrease in the deficit under Obama. Sequestration played a role. So did the tepid recovery.

          1. Does not contradict what I stated.

          2. Richard Hidalgo wrote, “Lower taxes have NEVER decreased revenues to the federal government – SHOW US WHERE IT HAS.”

            Wow, not even Laffer would have gone that far.


          3. And STILL waiting for ANY data showing tax decreases resulted in lower revenues to the federal government (Laffer would agree with me)…

          4. I refuse to engage you further, because either you are lazy, or your level of reading comprehension is too low to bother with. I provided the data in the link. Just from the standpoint of common sense, a zero rate means zero revenue. Wowser.

          5. I see why you are leaving this debate, you are a fool that actually believes I was implying a “zero rate”.

        2. A tax decrease will never cause a slowing of the economy. Wow what a statement. How bout if there is less govt revenue coming in due to lower corporate taxes and estate taxes and therefore less construction projects (less jobs) – less increases in wages (people spend more when they have more) – I could go on for awhile

          1. Lower taxes has NEVER decreased revenues to the federal government – SHOW US WHERE IT HAS.

  4. . . . . Thanks for your accurate statistics, facts, and figures, but whenever I see a meme image like that from the Looney Left my first thought is that the author is either too stoopit to understand the difference between the debt and the deficit or they think their intended audience is. Just a thought.

    Also, I was shocked, and I do mean literally shocked, that you didn’t mention the Budget Sequestration that was forced on Obama by Boehner and went into affect on January 1, 2013. Have you already forgotten how Obama as an emergency measure had to suspend Kiddie Tours at the White House?

  5. This posting is laughable at best…

    1. It is pretty funny how many people believe these social media images.

    2. Not Falling For It


      1. Apparently you need someone to read and explain this supposed article to you…

  6. Learn the difference between the national debt and deficit BEFORE you decide to write about it please.

  7. so just post whatever you want and pretend it’s fact I guess… Liberal/democrat way… If you consider what it started at in 2008 when he took office the deficit went up by 20% at least. Morons.

    1. Obama didn’t take office until 2009. Maybe you should research more before having an opinion.

    2. Bush took over with a surplus and turned that into the largest deficit ever. Obama inherited a 1.4 trillion dollar deficit and it was cut to 443 Billion CBO estimate. So cowboy, that would be a over 2/3 reduction. That is 2.6 percent of GDP.
      And while you are learning al little something, the 2009 budget is Bush’s just as the 2017’s is Obamas. Fiscal years aren’t calendar years.
      It isn’t liberal or democrat, it is educated. And there is no meter where you can say that the US is better off in 1/2009 then 1/2017.

    3. The irony is you are the liberal here…

  8. I’ll give Obama a break on the deficit given what inherited in 09, but I do not believe in deficit spending when we are in a good state in the economy. Currently, manufacturing jobs have been on the increase since 2010 (after a huge crash along with the financial crisis), unemployment has fallen below 5%, and we are experiencing the longest undisturbed economic growth in decades. Though we still have many problems in our country (large underemployment, poor healthcare coverage, entanglement in foreign conflicts) I do not see a good reason for the “fiscally responsible” republicans that are in power to pass a budget the continues this deficit streak that we’ve been on since 2002. If a “muslim from Kenya” can reduce our deficit by 2/3 than who knows what our Great God Emperor Trump can do.

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