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Bachmann challenges administration on deficit

By Tom Watkins, CNN
updated 2:31 AM EST, Sun November 13, 2011

(CNN) -- In the GOP presidential candidates' debate Saturday night in Spartanburg, South Carolina, Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota cited numbers relating to debt and deficit and implied that the Obama administration is to blame for their increases.

The statement: "In October, we just added another $203 billion in debt. When you consider the last time that Republicans controlled the budget, it was 2007 and debt was $160 billion per year. For every man, woman and child in the United States, it means each of us took $650 in debt for the month of October," Bachmann said.

The facts: According to the U.S. Treasury's website, the total public outstanding debt on September 30, 2011 was $14,790,340,328,557.15; by October 31, it was $14,993,709,044,140.78. Subtract September's total from October's and you get $203,368,715,583.63. To get a per-capita figure, we divide that number by the total U.S. population in 2010, as determined by the U.S. Census, to get $658.69.

But in her reference to $160 billion in 2007, Bachmann was referring not to debt, but to deficit. According to the Treasury Department, the 2007 deficit was $162.8 billion. The deficit is the difference between what the government takes in during the course of a year and what it spends.

So, with the exception of a vocabulary error, she is correct in her numbers.

But it's not fair to compare the deficit under the Obama administration with the deficit in 2007, a year before the financial crisis hit, according to Uwe Reinhardt, an economics professor at Princeton University.

Reinhardt cites a graph published in February 2011 by the Congressional Budget Office, the non-partisan research arm of Congress, which makes it clear that deficits occurred throughout the administration of George W. Bush.

The CBO Budget Update of January 2009, prior to Obama's entering the White House, predicted a $1.2 trillion deficit for the fiscal year, which began in October 2008.

And spending increases -- on such things as the bailout package of 2008, unemployment compensation, the growing number of people who receive Medicaid benefits and the stimulus package -- are only partly the cause of the deficits since 2009. Bush-era tax cuts have led to the lowest federal revenues as a percentage of gross domestic product in 40 years, according to the CBO.

In addition, the Republican-backed prescription-drug bill in 2003 was deficit-financed. According to government data, that bill alone was $62 billion last year and is projected to exceed $156 billion in 2020.

According to the President's Economic Report to Congress, public debt quadrupled under Ronald Reagan and almost doubled again under George W. Bush. By the time he left office, it stood at $10 trillion.

The verdict: True, but incomplete

CNN's Lindsey Knight contributed to this story.

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