National debt growth

National debt growth under every president from Richard Nixon to Joe Biden

See how much debt was racked up during each administration

By Breck Dumas FOX Business

The U.S. national debt surpassed $31 trillion this recently and will balloon further as federal government spending continues to accelerate along with interest paid on the balance.

American leaders have been on a spending binge for decades under both Democratic and Republican administrations, and not since Republican President Calvin Coolidge, who departed the White House in 1929, has an American president reduced the national debt over their tenure in office, according to an analysis by Sound Dollar.

Both the executive and legislative branches have a say in spending: The president submits a proposed budget each year to Congress, which ultimately holds the power of the purse.                                                                                                                         With that in mind, Sound Dollar adjusted the figures to account for the fact that in a president’s first year in office, they operate on a budget they inherited from their predecessor.

The national debt took a significant leap for the time under GOP President Richard Nixon, who racked up $121.3 billion — nearly three times the debt of Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson — before resigning during his second term in 1974. A few years prior in 1971, Nixon famously took the U.S. off the gold standard.

Since that time, the debt has continued to surge.                                                                                                                                            Following Nixon, Republican Gerald Ford was able to tack another $223.8 billion onto the debt in only three years in office during a period of stagflation. Democrat Jimmy Carter added $299 million during his single term, marred by a recession.

Ronald Reagan was the first president to push debt accumulation into the trillions, contributing $1.86 trillion to what the U.S. owed during his terms from 1981 to 1989. The Republicans implemented tax cuts to pull the economy out of recession and boosted military spending during his time in office.

Fellow Republican George H.W. Bush nearly matched the amount of debt accumulated under Reagan but did so in a single term, adding another $1.4 trillion during his presidency due in part to U.S. involvement in the First Gulf War.

National debt growth slowed some after that during the two terms of Democratic President Bill Clinton, who famously worked with a GOP-controlled House of Representatives to balance the budget. But the debt still grew by $1.4 trillion by the time Clinton left office in 2001.                                                                                                                                                                                       Spending surged again, however, under GOP President George W. Bush when another $6.1 trillion was added to the debt from 2001-2009. Bush was president during the terrorist attacks on the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001, which led to the U.S. war in Afghanistan that lasted 20 years. The U.S. also launched the Iraq War under Bush in 2003, and Congress famously passed a $700 billion bank bailout during his tenure in reaction to the financial crash of 2008.

After George W. Bush, Democratic President Barack Obama added another $8.34 trillion during his time in the White House from 2009 until 2017. During the Obama administration, Congress implemented some tax relief proposed by the president and also passed his signature “Obamacare” health insurance reform, the Affordable Care Act.

Republican President Donald Trump added nearly as much national debt during his four years in office as Obama did in eight, posting another $8.2 trillion. Trump vastly expanded the defense budget under his watch and cut taxes, but much of the debt incurred happened as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 when Congress passed trillions in relief spending to combat the virus.

President Joe Biden also submitted a record military budget last year, and the Democrat-controlled Congress further passed his American Rescue Plan Act to provide additional pandemic relief. Less than two years into office, Biden has added $1.84 trillion to the national debt.