For some reason, some people decided to resuscitate a chart created by Nancy Pelosi’s office about presidential responsibility for increases in the national debt. I say “for some reason,” because fact-checkers at PolitiFact had already given Pelosi a “pants on fire” rating for the chart because it massaged the underlying data and assigned it incorrectly.
It didn’t take long for the chart to be slapped down again when it resurfaced last week. But its brief revival did make me wonder how such a chart would look if it were drawn to assign responsibility for the debt to speakers of the House. There’s good reason to look at it from a congressional perspective, since Congress must pass budget legislation before the president can sign it. And it’s simpler to look at it from the House perspective, because the balance between Republicans and Democrats in the Senate changed mid-session a few times during the early 2000s.
Using the same data sources and parameters PolitiFact used to debunk Pelosi’s presidential-debt chart and declare President Obama “the undisputed debt king of the last five presidents,” here’s what I found:
No wonder Pelosi is so eager to look at things from a presidential perspective. (Two technical notes: Aside from PolitiFact’s parameters, I did the following: I gave responsibility for the 1990 budget to Tom Foley, rather than his predecessor, Jim Wright, who resigned in June 1989, for simplicity’s sake. And I left out John Boehner, because we don’t have full-year GDP data for 2011.)
It doesn’t get any better for her if we look at increases on an annual basis — which arguably is the fairer way to look at them, given that Pelosi presided over the House for less time than Foley, Tip O’Neill or Dennis Hastert. Here’s the chart on an annual basis:
Again, not good at all for Pelosi.
But what about the effects of the Great Recession? Well, I ran the numbers a third time, dividing Pelosi’s tenure into “Pelosi I” from January 2007 to January 2009, and “Pelosi II” from January 2009 to January 2011. Here are the results, again on an annualized basis:
Her first two years were still the worst we had seen in three decades.
It’s true that debt as a percentage of GDP grew during the 108th Congress — the third of four when Hastert was speaker — but it didn’t grow as fast then as during Pelosi’s first two years. And the ratio fell during the other three periods under Hastert.
Why do Democrats, who kept her as their House leader even after the debacle in the midterm elections last year, still think she’s the best person for the job?
– By Kyle Wingfield