Behind Fox's Phony Deficit Increase Talking Point

Fox News is resorting to dishonest misrepresentations of President Obama's record of deficit reduction by cherry picking data and completely disregarding Bush-era deficit levels.

On the September 24 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-hosts Steve Doocy, Elisabeth Hasselbeck, and Brian Kilmeade were joined by Fox Business anchor Stuart Varney for a falsehood-laden discussion of the federal budget and budget deficit. Varney argued that President Obama first ran up the deficit before hemming it down, claiming that in the president's “first full year in office” the federal budget deficit was approximately $1.4 trillion. 

Fox provided a graphic of deficit spending from 2008 to projected 2013 levels, claiming that the deficit is up 137.7 percent since 2008.

The 137.7 percent deficit increase cited by Fox is ostensibly calculated by comparing the 2012 deficit to that of 2008. This figure, however, completely misrepresents deficits under the Obama administration, by picking erroneous start and end dates.

The federal budget deficit in fiscal year 2009 was $1.4 trillion. However, fiscal year 2009 began on October 1, 2008, months before President Obama was sworn into office. Attributing the 2009 budget deficit to President Obama is simply incorrect.

According to the Congressional Budget Office's (CBO) budget and economic outlook report for 2009 -- released prior to President Obama's first inauguration -- the federal budget deficit was projected to be $1.2 trillion for the 2009 fiscal year. Citing turmoil in the housing and financial markets, the CBO projected deficits to rise to their largest percentage of GDP since the Reagan administration. From the report:

A drop in tax revenues and increased federal spending (much of it related to the government's actions to address the crisis in the housing and financial markets) both contribute to the robust growth in this year's deficit.

The report noted that the projected deficit also included the initial $180 billion cost of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) and the estimated $200 billion takeover of mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Choosing 2012 deficits as the end point for analysis of deficit growth is also erroneous. Why Fox didn't choose the most recent data -- projected levels for fiscal year 2013, which ends on September 30 - as the end point remains a mystery.

If Fox had chosen the correct starting and end points for its analysis of deficits under President Obama, a completely different picture of deficit reduction would emerge. Indeed, according to the latest CBO budget and economic outlook released in May, deficits are projected to fall to less than 3.4 percent of GDP in 2014, the lowest level in years. Current deficit projections for 2017, President Obama's final fiscal year, are estimated to fall to just 2.4 percent of GDP. None of these facts were featured in Fox's reporting.

Fox & Friends has dedicated three segments in one week to a discussion of the debt, debt ceiling, and deficit. Each time their reports have been plagued by misunderstanding or mischaracterizing the facts.