In an interview with ABC News, President Trump — who as a candidate in 2016 said he could eliminate the national debt in eight years or at least reduce it in chunks — defended its continued rise under his administration.
Asked about his criticism of the Federal Reserve and its chairman, Jerome Powell, Trump brought up the debt and complained that President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden “doubled” it during their years in office:
“What I don't like is when you raise the interest rates, there's no inflation-- there's virtually no inflation. When you raise interest rates, that means you're paying more in debt. And I inherited almost $21 trillion in debt. I inherited that. President Obama and Biden, they doubled the debt during their eight years. You know that.”
When Stephanopoulos pointed out that the debt has been rising on Trump’s watch as well, the president said spending more money on the military was necessary:
“Sure. But I have to rebuild the military. They doubled the debt, and they didn't do anything. They doubled the debt on nonsense. I took over a military that was totally depleted. I have to rebuild it. … We have beautiful new F-35s and F-18s and new — rifles, new uniforms. In the case of the Army, we have the new uniforms that everybody's wanted for years. They're an expensive — job. … We have spent a tremendous amount of money on our military. And we did the right thing because we had to rebuild our military.”
1. The debt didn’t quite double under Obama, but it did rise by $9 trillion. The debt held by the public, a more meaningful number, did more than double, rising from $6.3 trillion to $14 trillion. But blaming that all on Obama isn’t fair, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget has said. Meanwhile, the debt has risen by more than $2 trillion under Trump so far.
2. While Trump’s didn’t explain his claim that Obama raised the debt for “nonsense,” he has in the past criticized the deficit-raising stimulus passed in 2009 to help lift the country out of the Great Recession. While there’s still some debate among economists about just how much the stimulus helped, fact-checkers have said that Trump’s past criticisms distorted the facts and were “mostly false.”
3. Trump’s comments about military spending ignore other factors that have driven up the debt under his administration, including the 2017 tax cuts he signed, which the Congressional Budget Office has said will add $1.9 trillion to the debt. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget said earlier this year that the tax cuts will cost $230 billion this year, accounting for roughly a quarter of the deficit, while spending increases Trump grudgingly signed into law last year, including those for the military, will cost $190 billion, or about a fifth of the deficit.