It is often claimed that George W. Bush is the biggest spender. The numbers used to prove it are the current deficit figures, which form a very poor basis for comparison based on the fluctuating value of the dollar.
However, it is still true. Taking the National Debt figures from the United States treasury, one can calculate the deficit for each year. The deficits were then converted to 1794 constant dollars based on the value of gold for each year. The four years of each president’s term were added together to determine the overall per-term deficit or surplus.
It is necessary to consider each term separately because otherwise a two term president would default to a worse spender than a single term president given nearly equal deficits for each.
The figures for each president are as follows:
|-99,776,642,401.45||Bush Jr Term 1|
|-96,408,875,337.91||F Roosevelt Term 3|
|-63,508,876,217.31||Clinton Term 1|
|-60,226,092,484.91||Bush Jr Term 2|
|-55,620,058,613.77||Reagan Term 2|
|-34,590,184,231.84||Reagan Term 1|
|-31,541,432,371.56||Clinton Term 2|
|-30,632,171,603.66||Nixon / Ford|
|-30,513,251,062.43||F Roosevelt / Truman|
|-22,277,279,516.03||Wilson Term 2|
|-14,907,433,625.97||Kennedy / Johnson|
|-9,064,312,546.96||F Roosevelt Term 1|
|-8,064,456,770.95||Eisenhower Term 1|
|-7,979,119,959.91||Eisenhower Term 2|
|-5,516,035,432.17||F Roosevelt Term 2|
|-1,750,942,082.69||Lincoln Term 1|
|-845,903,480.62||Lincoln / Johnson|
|-738,552,212.80||Wilson Term 1|
|-362,676,610.68||T Roosevelt Term 2|
|-181,124,526.17||Cleveland Term 2|
|-126,862,797.32||T Roosevelt Term 1|
|-82,125,195.84||Madison Term 2|
|-19,154,479.48||Taylor / Fillmore|
|-6,534,247.41||Washington Term 2|
|-3,450,826.53||Jefferson Term 1|
|-1,764,448.14||Washington Term 1|
|745,788.38||Monroe Term 2|
|19,986,580.07||Madison Term 1|
|21,230,802.91||Jefferson Term 2|
|22,794,733.90||John Quincy Adams|
|24,284,722.13||Jackson Term 2|
|36,319,367.59||Monroe Term 1|
|43,152,808.69||Jackson Term 1|
|72,820,997.22||Grant Term 2|
|137,703,187.95||Cleveland Term 1|
|289,746,134.16||Garfield / Arthur|
|408,388,139.06||Grant Term 1|
|4,686,460,530.01||Harding / Coolidge|
George W. Bush’s second term is not yet finished, and yet it is already in fifth place for cumulative constant dollar deficits. His numbers are comparatively reduced due to the price of gold shooting up during his term.
There is a definite correlation between how recently the president served and how large the cumulative constant value deficit is. Every president during or after the Great Depression is represented at the top of the list of deficit spenders, along with Wilson for the costs incurred during World War One. The top ten includes all recent presidents except Carter, but also includes FDR for his Word War Two spending. Both of Clinton’s terms are in the top ten, even though Clinton ran the smallest deficit in recent history during his last year in office. The other three years of deficits were enough to place the term in the top ten.
The last administration to have a cumulative surplus is the Coolidge administration. The biggest saver of all times is the Harding / Coolidge administration, ranked by historians as one of the worst presidential administrations of all time. Although not reflected in the chart, the last president to actually run a surplus was Eisenhower, but the cumulative deficits put his terms into the negative.
In the nineteenth century there was a more consistent effort to reduce the debt, excepting during wars. Presidents of both parties worked to run surpluses to that the debt may be reduced.
Counter arguments to these figures could be using federal budget figures instead of federal deficit figures, and using other means of adjusting to a constant dollar.