United States Debt Broken Down by President, Both in Dollars and Percentage

United States Debt Broken Down by President, Both in Dollars and Percentage

Who is responsible for the most significant increase in the national debt? It depends on the way you measure it. How can we calculate how much each President has contributed to the United States' current level of $30 trillion in debt with the greatest accuracy? Amongst the methods which are the most common and widely used, there is one that involves comparing the level of debt that existed when a president took office and the level of debt that existed when they left office. It is also helpful to compare the debt as a proportion of economic production because this considers the economy's size throughout the period of time in which the administration was responsible for accumulating the debt.

Limitations to measuring changes in debt by President

The President doesn't have much power over the national debt during their first year in office. Due to this, neither of the methods described above is a remarkably accurate approach to quantifying each President's impact on the national debt. For instance, Donald Trump became President of the United States on January 20, 2017. In the first half of his term, Trump operated under the budget that former President Barack Obama had established for the fiscal year 2017, which came to a close on September 30, 2017. In May, he turned in his initial budget proposal. It applied to the 2018 fiscal year, which didn't start until October 1 of the previous year. Congress deliberately puts it up in this manner, even though the time difference may indicate that it is unclear. One of the benefits of the federal fiscal year is that it allows the newly elected President time to put out a budget for their administration during their first few months in office.

The most accurate way to evaluate the change in US debt, according to President

One can deduce an administration's priorities from the President's spending plan. The most accurate method of calculating a President's legacy debt is to add up all of their budget deficits. We will then compare that sum to the level of debt that existed when that President took office. Deficit and debt are two different things, even though their names sound identical. A budget shortfall is referred to as a deficit. In contrast, the cumulative amount of all deficits and surpluses is debt. The debt is increased when there is a deficit, whereas it is decreased when there is a surplus.

The top five presidents, ranked by their contribution in percentage to the national debt

1. Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945)

The national debt increased under President Roosevelt by the most significant percentage since he took office. Even though he only contributed $236 billion to the debt, this represented an increase of over 1,048 percent from the $22.5 billion debt level left by the previous President, Herbert Hoover. Events such as the Great Depression and the New Deal contributed to President Roosevelt's annual deficits. However, the cost of World War II was the most significant contributor to the national debt. The war added $186.3 billion between 1942 and 1945.

2. Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921)

President Woodrow Wilson was the second-largest contributor to the national debt in terms of percentages. He added over $21 billion, which was a 723 percent raise over the debt level of his predecessor, which stood at $2.9 billion. The shortfalls that led to an increase in the national debt were exacerbated by World War I.

3. Ronald Reagan (1981-1989)

During President Reagan's tenure, the national debt climbed by $1.86 trillion, or 186 percent. The supply-side economics that Ronald Reagan advocated did not result in a sufficient expansion of the economy to compensate for the money that was foregone due to his tax cuts. Additionally, the budget for the military was increased by 35% under Reagan's administration.

4. George W. Bush (2001-2009)

As a direct response to the attacks of September 11, 2001, George W. Bush initiated the War on Terror, which ultimately resulted in the expenditure of several trillions of dollars on the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The national debt increased by $5.85 trillion during President Bush's tenure. That's a gain of 101 percent, moving him up to the fourth place. In addition, Bush was President during the recession of 2001 and the financial crisis of 2008.

5. Barack Obama (2009-2017)

Even though President Bush was the one who established the budget for the 2009 fiscal year, President Obama added to it in 2009 by passing the Economic Stimulus Act. The national debt increased by the fifth-highest percentage, 74 percent, and was the highest in dollar terms, at $8.6 trillion, while President Obama was in office. Obama combated the Great Recession with an economic stimulus program worth $831 billion. He added $858 billion through tax cuts.

Increase in US debt caused by each president for each fiscal year

Since 1790, the United States Department of the Treasury has maintained historical tables that detail the yearly amount of the national debt for each fiscal year. The numbers presented below were created by compiling the data obtained from that source.

Joe Biden

At the close of the fiscal year in 2021, on October 1, 2021, the total amount of the national debt was $28.4 trillion. The national debt increased by $1.5 trillion between the end of the fiscal year 2020 and the end of the fiscal year 2021, which is a rise of 5.6 percent year over year. President Biden's budget for the upcoming fiscal year 2022 includes a deficit of $1.84 trillion. By the end of January 2022, the national debt had increased to more than $30.0 trillion.

Donald Trump

The amount of debt reached $26.9 trillion when the fiscal year 2020 came to a close. Between the fiscal years 2017 and 2020, Trump contributed $6.7 trillion to the national debt, representing a 33.1% increase. This was mainly the result of the effects of the coronavirus outbreak and the recession that occurred in 2020. In his proposed budget for the fiscal year 2021, President Trump included a deficit of $966 billion. However, by October 1, 2021, the national debt had increased by $1.5 trillion from the previous year's level as measured on October 1.
  • The fiscal year 2021: $1.5 trillion
  • The fiscal year 2020: $4.2 trillion
  • The fiscal year 2019: $1.2 trillion
  • The fiscal year 2018: $1.3 trillion

Barack Obama

At the end of President Bush's final budget in 2009, President Obama added around $8.6 trillion to the national debt, equivalent to an increase of approximately 74 percent.
  • The fiscal year 2017: $671 billion
  • The fiscal year 2016: $1.42 trillion
  • The fiscal year 2015: $326 billion
  • The fiscal year 2014: $1.09 trillion
  • The fiscal year 2013: $672 billion
  • The fiscal year 2012: $1.28 trillion
  • The fiscal year 2011: $1.23 trillion
  • The fiscal year 2010: $1.65 trillion
  • The fiscal year 2009: $253 billion (Mostly attributed to the passing of the Economic Stimulus Act by Congress)

George W. Bush

A $5.85 trillion addition was made to the national debt by President Bush. This represents a 101 percent increase from the $5.8 trillion debt that existed at the end of President Clinton's last budget for the fiscal year 2001.
  • The fiscal year 2009: $1.63 trillion (this figure represents Bush's deficit before the effects of the Economic Stimulus Act)
  • The fiscal year 2008: $1.02 trillion
  • The fiscal year 2007: $501 billion
  • The fiscal year 2006: $574 billion
  • The fiscal year 2005: $553 billion
  • The fiscal year 2004: $596 billion
  • The fiscal year 2003: $555 billion
  • The fiscal year 2002: $421 billion

Bill Clinton

The national debt was $4.4 trillion at the end of President H.W. Bush's last budget. President Clinton added approximately $1.4 trillion to it, which is almost 32 percent.
  • The fiscal year 2001: $133 billion
  • The fiscal year 2000: $18 billion
  • The fiscal year 1999: $130 billion
  • The fiscal year 1998: $113 billion
  • The fiscal year 1997: $189 billion
  • The fiscal year 1996: $251 billion
  • The fiscal year 1995: $281 billion
  • The fiscal year 1994: $281 billion

George H.W. Bush

The national debt reached $2.857 trillion at the end of Ronald Reagan's last budget. Still, under President George H.W. Bush, it increased by an additional $1.55 trillion, a 54 percent raise.
  • The fiscal year 1993: $347 billion
  • The fiscal year 1992: $399 billion
  • The fiscal year 1991: $432 billion
  • The fiscal year 1990: $376 billion

Ronald Reagan

When President Carter finished his last budget, the national debt stood at $997.8 billion; when President Reagan took office, it had increased to $1.86 trillion, a rise of 186 percent.
  • The fiscal year 1989: $255 billion
  • The fiscal year 1988: $252 billion
  • The fiscal year 1987: $225 billion
  • The fiscal year 1986: $302 billion
  • The fiscal year 1985: $251 billion
  • The fiscal year 1984: $195 billion
  • The fiscal year 1983: $235 billion
  • The fiscal year 1982: $145 billion

Jimmy Carter

The national debt reached $698.8 billion at the end of President Ford's last budget. Still, President Carter added $299 billion, or a 42.7 percent raise.
  • The fiscal year 1981: $90.1 billion
  • The fiscal year 1980: $81.1 billion
  • The fiscal year 1979: $54.9 billion
  • The fiscal year 1978: $72.7 billion

Gerald Ford

The national debt increased by 223.7 billion dollars under President Ford's watch.
  • The fiscal year 1977: $78.4 billion
  • The fiscal year 1976: $87.2 billion
  • The fiscal year 1975: $58.1 billion

Richard Nixon

An increase of $121.1 billion was added to the national debt by President Nixon. This represents a 34 percent rise from the $353.7 billion debt after President Johnson's last budget.
  • The fiscal year 1974: $16.9 billion
  • The fiscal year 1973: $30.8 billion
  • The fiscal year 1972: $29.1 billion
  • The fiscal year 1971: $27.2 billion
  • The fiscal year 1970: $17.1 billion

Lyndon B. Johnson

The national debt reached $312 billion at the end of President Kennedy's term in office in 1964. President Johnson added $41.8 billion to it. This represented a modest 13 percent increase over the previous level of debt.
  • The fiscal year 1969: $6.1 billion
  • The fiscal year 1968: $21.3 billion
  • The fiscal year 1967: $6.3 billion
  • The fiscal year 1966: $2.6 billion
  • The fiscal year 1965: $5.5 billion

John F. Kennedy

The national debt increased by $22.6 billion during President Kennedy's administration.
  • The fiscal year 1964: $5.8 billion
  • The fiscal year 1963: $7.6 billion
  • The fiscal year 1962: $9.2 billion

Dwight Eisenhower

The national debt increased by $22.8 billion while Eisenhower was President.
  • The fiscal year 1961: $2.6 billion
  • The fiscal year 1960: $1.6 billion
  • The fiscal year 1959: $8.3 billion
  • The fiscal year 1958: $5.8 billion
  • The fiscal year 1957: $2.2 billion surplus
  • The fiscal year 1956: $1.6 billion surplus
  • The fiscal year 1955: $3.1 billion
  • The fiscal year 1954: $5.1 billion

Harry Truman

The national debt increased by $7.3 billion during President Truman's tenure.
  • The fiscal year 1953: $6.9 billion
  • The fiscal year 1952: $3.8 billion
  • The fiscal year 1951: $2.1 billion surplus
  • The fiscal year 1950: $4.5 billion
  • The fiscal year 1949: $478 million surplus
  • The fiscal year 1948: $6 billion surplus
  • The fiscal year 1947: $11 billion surplus
  • The fiscal year 1946: $10.7 billion

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Compared to the $22.5 billion debt after Hoover's last budget, President Roosevelt added $236 billion to the national debt, representing a 1,048 percent increase.
  • The fiscal year 1945: $57.7 billion
  • The fiscal year 1944: $64.3 billion
  • The fiscal year 1943: $64.2 billion
  • The fiscal year 1942: $23.5 billion
  • The fiscal year 1941: $6 billion
  • The fiscal year 1940: $2.5 billion
  • The fiscal year 1939: $3.2 billion
  • The fiscal year 1938: $740 million
  • The fiscal year 1937: $2.6 billion
  • The fiscal year 1936: $5 billion
  • The fiscal year 1935: $1.6 billion
  • The fiscal year 1934: $4.5 billion

Herbert Hoover

The national debt increased by around $5.7 billion due to President Hoover's policies.
  • The fiscal year 1933: $3 billion
  • The fiscal year 1932: $2.8 billion
  • The fiscal year 1931: $616 million
  • The fiscal year 1930: $746 million surplus

Calvin Coolidge

During his administration, President Coolidge cut the national debt by around $5.3 billion.
  • The fiscal year 1929: $673 million surplus
  • The fiscal year 1928: $907 million surplus
  • The fiscal year 1927: $1.1 billion surplus
  • The fiscal year 1926: $873 million surplus
  • The fiscal year 1925: $734.6 million surplus
  • The fiscal year 1924: $1 billion surplus

Warren G. Harding

The nation's debt was cut by around $1.6 billion during President Harding's administration due to budget surpluses.
  • The fiscal year 1923: $614 million surplus
  • The fiscal year 1922: $1 billion surplus

Woodrow Wilson

At the end of Taft's final budget for the fiscal year 1913, the national debt stood at $2.9 billion; President Wilson added over $21 billion to it, representing a 723 percent increase over that time period.
  • The fiscal year 1921: $1.9 billion surplus
  • The fiscal year 1920: $1.4 billion surplus
  • The fiscal year 1919: $12.8 billion
  • The fiscal year 1918: $9.8 billion
  • The fiscal year 1917: $2.1 billion
  • The fiscal year 1916: $551 million
  • The fiscal year 1915: $146 million
  • The fiscal year 1914: $0 (slight surplus)

From 1790 until 1913, the national debt was increased by a total of $2.8 billion by each of the presidents.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Which of the Presidents has been responsible for the most significant increase in the national debt?

In large part, due to the costs connected with maintaining the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, it appears that President Joe Biden will be the one to add the most to the budget deficit. Late in 2021, Congress had a vote to increase the limit on the nation's debt.

Why does the US have a large amount of outstanding debt?

Less money is coming in as a direct result of ongoing reductions in taxes paid by corporations and the wealthiest individuals and families in the United States. At the same time, expenditures for both pandemic relief efforts and the military show no signs of slowing down.

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