Who Ran Up America's Debt?

May 25 2011

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Congress holds the purse strings. Since the end of World War II in 1945, Democrats have been responsible for about 90 percent of the increase – $7.3 trillion in today’s dollars – in federal debt held by the public. Republicans have been responsible for about 10 percent of the increase. Federal debt held by the public is owed to individuals, firms, foreign governments, and the Federal Reserve. Republican control of Congress produced two periods of federal budget surplus (fiscal years 1948-1949 and 1998-

2001) for a net reduction of federal debt held by the public since World War II of $352 billion in today’s dollars. 

Apples-to-apples. This Republican Staff Commentary uses constant 2010 dollars to ensure a dollar of debt incurred in the past is compared equally with a dollar of debt today. The change in federal debt during a fiscal year was attributed to the party that controlled Congress at the beginning of that fiscal year. When partisan control of Congress was split, one-half of the change in federal debt during a fiscal year was attributed to each party. This analysis covers the period from July 1, 1945 (the beginning of fiscal year 1946) to March 31, 2011 (the middle of fiscal year 2011).

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