When President Biden released his federal budget, concerns about the national debt surfaced, as they do with every annual budget release. The new budget proposal calls for spending of $5.8 trillion. More than $800 billion is for the military, the largest expenditure of any country. Social spending is, for the most part, budgeted to increase quite rapidly. The administration expects taxes on the very wealthy and on corporations to keep the deficit low.
Over a decade, the administration expects deficits to total $14.4 trillion, which will add significantly to the current national debt of $23.3 trillion. As the figure rises, so do questions about how it can be repaid. These problems will become more acute as interest rates rise and the US government will have to pay more interest to support its borrowing.
Whether it’s fair or not, deficits are usually attributed to sitting presidents as they rise or fall, though the factors for most ups and downs are beyond their control. Using federal government data, 24/7 Wall St. determined the effect each U.S. president has had on the total national debt over the past 100 years. Presidents were ranked according to the evolution of the national debt from the start of their first fiscal year until the end of their last. Debt figures are not adjusted for inflation.
While US presidents have mandatory spending obligations, such as Social Security and Medicare, they have some level of control over discretionary budgets, as well as taxes. Yet a president’s budget, as well as any proposed changes to the tax code, must receive congressional approval. Therefore, when it comes to balancing federal spending and revenue, a president’s relationship with lawmakers matters.
Additionally, US presidents often face unforeseen challenges that take precedence over a balanced budget. Many of the largest increases in national debt have taken place during times of national crisis. The attack on Pearl Harbor and America’s entry into World War II are the ultimate example. More recent examples include the economic stimulus during the 2008 financial crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic. Other factors, such as GDP growth, can help or hinder a president’s budget goals.
The president who oversaw the biggest shift in federal debt was Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945). Here are the details:
> Change in federal debt during the presidency: +1,047.7% (+236.1 billion dollars)
> Total federal debt in first year in office: $22.5 billion
> Total federal debt last year in office: $258.7 billion
Franklin Roosevelt served as President of the United States for 12 years, longer than any other President in history. Leading the country through the Great Depression and World War II, his presidency also weathered some of the toughest times in US history.
To deal with the economic crisis in his country, Roosevelt adopted a set of progressive policies designed to restore growth and prosperity, known as the New Deal. Social Security, the Tennessee Valley Authority, unemployment insurance, and farm subsidies are all components of the New Deal that remain intact today. Although this host of progressive policies came at a high cost, World War II was by far the biggest contributor to the national debt. In the fiscal years spanning Roosevelt’s tenure, the federal debt grew by 1,047%, or $236.1 billion.
Click here to read the US presidents who oversaw the biggest shifts in the national debt