During his State of the Union address in March, President Joe Biden claimed that “by the end of this year, the deficit will be down to less than half what it was before I took office—the only president ever to cut the deficit by more than $1 trillion in a single year.
Since then, he’s claimed responsibility for “the largest reduction” in the federal deficit in history.
That claim, in short, is bullshit.
In fact, in the roughly 18 months since he took office, Biden’s policies have only added to America’s long-term budget deficit, which is getting worse and worse as government spending outpaces tax revenue.
What Biden is trying to do is take credit for expiring emergency spending measures. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government ran an unprecedented $3.1 trillion deficit in 2020, which fell to a still-stratospheric $2.7 trillion deficit in 2021.
This year, with COVID spending largely off the books, the deficit is expected to fall to about $1.4 trillion—though we won’t have a final figure until after the fiscal year ends on September 30.
If you eliminate outlier years like 1943, when the U.S. was embroiled in a global war, this year’s budget deficit is likely to end up as one of the largest in American history even after adjusting for inflation.
So Biden doesn’t really have anything to be bragging about.
As expiring COVID spending made our fiscal situation look better on the surface, Biden was busy adding $2.4 trillion to the long-term deficit, according to the Congressional Budget Office’s most recent estimates.
That’s due to Biden’s American Rescue Plan, the bipartisan infrastructure package, and the $1.5 trillion federal budget that was passed in March. If the president’s multi-trillion-dollar Build Back Better plan had become law, we’d been in even worse shape.
On the chart below, the grey columns represent the projected deficits for the next 10 years when Biden took office. The red columns are the projected deficits a year and a half into his presidency. Biden can talk about reducing the deficit all he wants, but the truth is that he’s added to it.
“The federal government’s budget is on the road to hell,” warned former Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Holtz-Eakin back in 2011. That was before Presidents Barack Obama, Donald Trump, and now Joe Biden each went on a spending binge that has made our fiscal future even less stable.
Biden wants you to focus on just a small part of the overall picture. But the deficits for the past two years and this year are a misleading indicator of America’s overall fiscal health.
And to claim that he has reduced the deficit is worse than misleading. It’s an outright lie.
Graphics by Adani Samat and Isaac Reese. Edited by Regan Taylor. Written by Eric Boehm.