FACT CHECK: Mike Pence claims President Obama has almost doubled nation's debt

Posted at 5:34 PM, Aug 09, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-10 02:10:52-04

Donald Trump’s vice presidential pick, Mike Pence, reiterated many of his campaign partner’s promises during his Phoenix town hall

From building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border to fixing the economy, Pence also attacked Democrats, saying Hillary Clinton in the White House would equal a third term for President Barack Obama.

And that wouldn’t be a good thing, he said.

"Under this administration, the debt has nearly doubled," Pence said Aug. 2.

"Under this (the Obama) administration, the debt has nearly doubled."

Obama took office in January 2009 while America continued to reel from the recession.

But, we wondered, as Obama’s presidency comes to a close, where are we now in terms of debt?

We put Pence's claim through a PolitiFact truth-check. 

Important context

Pence spokesman Marc Lotter pointed us to the Treasury Department’s Debt to the Penny clock, a real-time look at the nation’s debt that goes back almost two decades.

On Jan. 20, 2009, when Obama took office, the gross federal debt was $10.63 trillion. As of Aug. 3, 2016, it is $19.4 trillion.

So the numbers check out.

But experts we spoke with still note that the debt cannot be pinned on just Obama. For one thing, Congress signs off on spending and taxation.

George Washington University law professor Neil Buchanan noted that the economy was in "free-fall" when Obama took office. In Arizona, the housing market crashed and key sector jobs, such as construction, dried up.

"Tax revenues were plummeting, because incomes were falling, while spending had to go up (for unemployment benefits, Medicaid, and so on)," Buchanan said. "Had we tried to balance the budget during that time, it would have accelerated the downturn, and there could have been a depression." 

Moreover, according to Bucknell University economics professor Gregory Krohn, the Congressional Budget Office projected in January that debt held by the public would increase to 75.6 percent- up from 39.3 percent in 2008.

"Debt held by the public, a more meaningful measure, more than doubled from $6.4 trillion to $13.9 trillion over the same period," Krohn said.

Our ruling

Pence said that under the Obama administration, "the debt has nearly doubled."

His numbers are on the mark. But it is important to note that the debt cannot all be blamed on Obama. Congress has a role in approving spending. And, experts told us that money needed to be spent in a free-falling economy.

We rate Pence’s claim Mostly True.


For the complete fact-check, visit our news partner, PolitiFact Arizona