The National Debt Road Trip – Complaint 1

I had a commenter for the National Debt Road Trip call BS on some of my numbers, so I wanted to run some sample numbers to make sure that I’m being as transparent as possible.

Complaint: “Obama’s projected to add about 9 trillion. That isn’t three times as much as Bush’s nearly 5 trillion.”

First of all, let’s get the numbers right. In raw unadjusted dollars, Bush increased the debt from $5.674 trillion to $10.024 trillion. That is $4.35 trillion, not five. And Obama has projected that he will increase it from $10.024 trillion to $20.004 trillion, which is $9.979 trillion… far closer to $10 trillion than to $9 trillion.

(Because I’m using the numbers from the TreasuryDirect site, I’m calculating from two months before Bush was elected (September 2000) until two months before Obama was elected (September 2008) for Bush’s data. I know that these calculations are somewhat clumsy, but I don’t think it is fair to assign Bush the debt responsibility for the Stimulus bill, which was entirely Obama’s baby.)

But still, $10 trillion is not three times $4.35 trillion. But that’s where inflation adjustment comes in. According to this inflation calculator, $5.674 trillion in 2000 dollars is the same as $7.035 trillion in 2008 dollars. This makes the inflation adjusted difference between the 2000 debt and the 2008 debt $2.94 trillion. It’s not pocket change, but it is certainly a downward revision.

I gave Obama a break by assuming that his team didn’t adjust for future inflation, so I made adjustements to his numbers, which meant cutting about $1.6 trillion off the debt leaving us with $18.4 trillion. This means he plans on increasing the debt by about $8.2 trillion (rounding down).

8.2 / 2.94 = 2.79 (the coefficient determining the speed calculation)

64 mph * 2.79 = 178.37 mph

Which is actually a shade faster than I said Obama was going.

I know most liberals aren’t going to believe this, but I really am trying to give the president the benefit of the doubt. In this video alone, I underestimated the inflation adjusted debt and I rounded everything down for him. If he doesn’t look good, it’s not my fault.

I know these kinds of posts are exceedingly boring for most people… even if I find them interesting. I’m doing them in the interest of transparency… so if someone says that my math is full of s***, they can look at this and do all the math themselves.


  1. Howie Burch says:

    If you were the one that produce the video on YouTube “Obama Budget Cuts Visualization” it was great!!!

    It brings into perspective the ridiculous situation we’re in and the deception that the current administration tries to pant a rosy picture of our predicament.

  2. Chris says:

    What happens when we default on the debt?

  3. Howie Burch says:

    They’ll just raise everyone’s taxes higher. I remember in the 60s when my tax rate was over 50%, and some people that made real money paid even higher. History repeats…

  4. politicalmath says:

    Actually, Megan McArdle has a fantastic post on that in which she talks about Argentina defaulting on their debt back in 2003. It is well worth a gander.

    Long story short – “for a while, it all seemed to be working. The world had a commodity boom, and Argentina, which grows a lot of commodities, boomed right along with it…(But now) Argentina has no access to the credit markets at all except through state agencies with real assets. That means that it may very shortly have to run an aggressively contractionary fiscal policy in a contracting economy.”

    I will wager that this will manifest itself in a country unable to provide even the obvious things a country is meant to provide (like roads and defense).

  5. Amy says:

    Here is the federal government’s cpi inflation calculator:

    The numbers are slightly different, and may change the map minimally. Then you can use Treasury’s numbers with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics calculator. It’s hard to avoid the calculations and analysis if you use their numbers and their equations.

    I enjoyed the video road trip in debt too! Thanks – very creative.

  6. Jhovany Corona says:

    In your projections do you assign the bailout to Obama or to Bush, the bailout was passed in the Bush administration and half the money was handed out before Obama got there, but Obama will hand out the other half,

  7. politicalmath says:

    Jhovany Corona,

    I assigned the bailout according to when the money was added to the debt. The numbers for the debt are calculated based on where we are at the end of the fiscal year (September 31).

    From about 15 seconds of research (so I could easily be mistaken) it looks like the bailout funds did not pass until October 3rd, so they would have been added to the debt for this fiscal year.

    I re-ran the calculations and added half of the bailout ($700 billion) to W. Bush’s total and the numbers came out this way:

    Bush – 71 mph
    Obama – 169 mph

    Thanks for the catch there.

  8. Mike says:

    Perhaps for a follow-up, it would be possible to break down GWB’s drive between the 107th-109th congress(R) and the 110th(D) congress. The graphs I’ve seen indicate a significant acceleration under the 110th congress.

    I’m unsure if the break would contribute artistically or no.

    Thank you for your work.

  9. politicalmath says:


    Bush with a Republican congress maxed out at 81 mph in 2003. With the Democratic congress, he ended up with 156 mph his final year.

    That might sound pretty fast (and it is), but if we look year-by-year, Obama is doing 358 mph this year, 213 mph next year and 186 mph the year after that. Under his plan, he will never drop under 140 mph.

    The reason I averaged all the years together is because it gives a better overall picture of the spending and it helps smooth out the statistical outliers.

  10. Andy says:

    Can you classify what portion of Obama’s debt is due to various factors? (Such as ecomonic downturn, bank bailout, new spending)


  11. Peterson says:

    “Bush increased the debt from $5.674 trillion to $10.024 trillion”. That is incorrect. You should have assigned debt to Presidents based upon the years FOR WHICH THEY SUBMITTED BUDGETS. By your reckoning, Obama is responsible for the debt created by GWB’s last budget submission (and working backwards, the first debt figure for Reagan is a result of the last budget Jimmy Carter submitted). It was good of you to identify the difference associated with correcting the placement of the first stimulus in Bush’s debt growth. Bit it also isn’t fair to stick Obama with all the other debt caused by GWB’s last budget, including the FY09 war supplemental, with the possible exception of the ARRA stimulus.

    The BUDGETS George W. Bush was responsible for are FY02 through FY09. Assuming the debt will be at least $11.7T as of this coming 30 Sep 09, the debt increase attributable to GWB’s eight budgets is FAR higher than your figure. It’s substantially higher even subtracting all $700B of the March 09 ARRA stimulus, though some would argue this too was needed as a result of the mess the GWB administration left behind, and that if Bush had remained in office, he most likely would have had to pass some form of stimulus, even if more tax-cut-based than ARRA.

    Please rework your cartoon with the correct data.