Republican Debt


In a previous LRC column I touched on the subject of Mythology, arguing that mythology gets discarded when it no longer serves the needs of society. In this essay I want to further that theme by touching on the subject of Republican Fiscal Conservatism, a myth that is a fallacy that needs to be discarded for political dialog and to provide data proving this assertion.

One of the main themes of the Republican Party since 1980 has been that Democrats are profligate spenders of tax dollars, irresponsibly incurring immense debt, and that electing Republican Administrations is a simple remediation for this vexing problem. Presidents Reagan, Bush (Father) and Bush (Son) all vigorously campaigned using these arguments in their platforms. This has been repeated ad nauseum by the talk radio pundits echoing this fallacy. Repeating a lie does not make it true, even if it is believed.

American historical memory is notably fleeting; fortunately the Federal Government records copious amounts of data, including the economic and financial. A lot of this can be found on the Internet and can be used to remind those of us that are unable to commit this to memory. I am not here to argue the precision and accuracy of this data in the statistical sense but to assume for arguments sake, that it is accurate within a few percent. The conclusion shown will not be effected by a few percentage points of error in the input data.

The data source for all discussion herein is the Federal Reserve Bank in St. Louis MO. The interested reader can find reams of data including what is presented here.

Public debt has been aggregated quarterly since 1966. The basis of my argument is that the public debt prior to 1966 will be ascribed to Democratic Administrations, just to give the Republicans a head start. There have been many Republican Administration’s since Andrew Jackson, a Tennessee hero, was the last President to pay off the National Debt. Unfortunately, the St. Louis Fed does not have data available during this period (that I could find) and so in the spirit of Rush Limbaugh I will blame it on those Blue State Democrats (it will not change the outcome).

United States Federal Government public debt data is updated every quarter here. A plot of this is shown below:

The public debt when the current data set begins was approximately 320 billion dollars, a small fraction of what is today at over 8 trillion dollars.

A spreadsheet of the quarterly data, in multiple formats can also be found at this site. I used this spreadsheet to allocate by quarters the occupancy of the White House by Democrats and Republicans in the intervening forty years. The Democratic results are shown, and then followed by the Republican.

If we take percentages of the aggregate debt on a partisan basis we get the following table:

(Millions USD)

% Total debt

Republican Debt Since 1966



Democrat Debt Since 1966



Bipartisan Total Since 1966


The results are astonishing, Republican Administrations have accrued, more than 3 fold, the debt that Democrats have. This demonstrates that the self-applied rubric of "fiscal conservative" is not true for Republican Administration’s unless we invert the accepted meaning of these words.

What about inflation? Will the varying value of the dollar (downward sadly) skew these results unfavorably? Since I am using Fed data, I will use another government statistic to gauge inflation, the consumer price index (CPI). The basis year is 1967 as 100, which is close enough, for my argument to 1966. The data I used found 1966 at 97, and 1998 at 475. I will be generous and blame Bill Clinton for another 125 points to be tacked onto the Bush years since 2001 to total 600 (a nice Rovian touch). Thus the initial Democratic debt in 1966, in 2006 dollars is 1.8 trillion which when added to the unadjusted since 1966 dollars totals 3.6 trillion. This is still a long way short of the Republican debt of 6.4 trillion dollars of just six Republican Administrations (Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Bush I, Bush II).

These results demonstrate the mendacious nature of the assertion of Republican Fiscal Conservatism. What does this bode for the republic? I cannot tell since I am not clairvoyant; however, in the known history of the world a debt this large has never been paid off.

"The future is not what it used to be." ~ Louis Cyphre Angelheart