White House Defends Obama Budget Statement Declared False By Non-Partisan Fact Checker, Critics

February 16, 2011 - 4:58 PM

Obama

President Barack Obama speaks at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington on Monday, Feb. 7, 2011. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Washington (CNSNews.com) – The White House is defending President Barack Obama’s assertion that his 10-year spending plan does not add anything to the national debt over the next decade, even as critics and non-partisan fact checkers point out that the plan would increase debt and at no point runs a budget surplus in the next year.

The administration released its fiscal year 2012 budget proposal this week with spending projections going to 2021. During a news conference Tuesday, Obama told reporters, “What my budget does is to put forward some tough choices, some significant spending cuts so that by the middle of this decade our annual spending will match our annual revenues. We will not be adding more to the national debt.”

The assertion was repeated by other administration officials. Obama and administration officials have stated they were not counting interest on the debt. But at no point between the current fiscal year and 2021 do the White House’s own numbers show revenue equal to expenditures. Further, the national debt is projected to nearly double to $26.3 trillion in 2021. 

“The first step for dealing with this issue is getting your regular income and spending down so that you are no longer adding to the problem,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday.

“Interest is something we have to deal with, and interest payments are a portion of our long-term debt,” Carney continued. “It’s a problem we need to address.

“It is not an inconsequential deal to propose a budget that cuts as substantial as it does in targeted areas so that the federal government lives within its means in order to be able to invest in the future because you have to have economic growth. You have to have job creation if we are going to address this overall long-term problem,” Carney added.  

In making this point to the Senate Budget Committee, Jack Lew, director of the president’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB), met some hostility.

Lew told CNN on Sunday, “Our budget will get us, over the next several years, to the point where we can look the American people in the eye and say we're not adding to the debt anymore; we're spending money that we have each year, and then we can work on bringing down our national debt.”

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), ranking member of the Senate Budget committee, expressed his “displeasure” in that statement.

“I believe that’s inaccurate,” Sessions told Lew. “Any American who heard that would believe this budget balances. It doesn’t come close to doing so.

“I cannot respect a position that suggests this budget reduces the debt,” Sessions said. “I hope the president never repeats that this budget balances at any point in 10 years.”

During the same news conference, Obama was pressed on the debt question and tried to explain his position.

“We still have all this accumulated debt as a consequence of the recession and as a consequence of a series of decisions that were made over the last decade,” Obama told reporters Tuesday. “We've piled up – we've racked up a whole bunch of debt. And there's a lot of interest on that debt.

“So in the same way that if you've got a credit card and you've got a big balance, you may not be adding to principal; you've still got all that interest that you've got to pay. Well, we've got a big problem in terms of accumulated interest that we're paying and that's why we're going to have to whittle down further the debt that's already been accumulated,” the president added.

The non-partisan Politifact, a Pulitzer Prize-winning fact check website, contended the president’s statement was false, even if he is excluding the accumulating debt.

“Because of interest costs – which amount to $884 billion in 2021 alone – the debt is projected to grow during every year of the president’s budget. (It's also a bit of an exaggeration to call 2017 ‘the middle of this decade.’),” Politifact said. “We think the president’s statement is likely to mislead a lot of Americans about what his budget would do. So we rate Obama’s statement False.”