Stand up for the facts!

Our only agenda is to publish the truth so you can be an informed participant in democracy.
We need your help.

More Info

I would like to contribute

By Eric Stirgus April 11, 2011

Senators ring alarm about "$4 billion" daily debt

Four billion dollars.

Imagine what could be done with that amount of money. MARTA, metro Atlanta’s mass transit system, has said it could use $4 billion for various expansion projects. The Obama administration has set aside that much money for its Race to the Top education program. Or, perhaps, you can buy the New York Yankees andthe Beatles music catalog and still have about $1 billion to spare.

Here’s a disturbing figure concerning $4 billion.

"An average of $4 billion is added to the national debt" every day, U.S. Sens. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., and Mark Warner, D-Va., wrote in a March 29 op-ed.

Is it really that much money? We wanted to find out.

The estimate is aimed at raising awareness among Americans into facing and dealing with what the two senators believe is one of the nation’s biggest problems -- its rapidly rising debt. Chambliss and Warner will come to Atlanta on Monday to talk about the debt to more than 500 business and community leaders at an event hosted by the Rotary Club of Atlanta.

The two senators are part of what’s been called the "Gang of Six" -- a group of six senators working on ways to lower the debt. The budget deficit and national debt are big issues in Washington as Democrats and Republicans debate how to best cut spending.

"Every dollar that we spend simply paying the interest on our nation’s staggering debt is disappearing into a fiscal sinkhole," they wrote. "These are resources that cannot be targeted toward creating jobs, expanding the U.S. economy or addressing any of our other shared priorities."

We wondered if Chambliss and Warner had their math right -- or are they trying to scare the public with false and gaudy numbers?

PolitiFact Virginia checked out a prior claimin December by Warner that the debt grew by an estimated $15 billion in one weekend. They ruled his claim was on the money.

There are two kinds of federal debt and interest -- the debt held by the public and the total debt. About $9.65 trillion -- yes, trillion -- of that debt is held by the public, which includes individuals, companies and state, local and foreign governments, according to the U.S. Treasury Department. The rest, about $4.6 trillion, is held by the Federal Financing Bank, government trust funds, other funds and accounts. The total debt is about $14.25 trillion. Those numbers are as of April 6, 2011, the most recent figures available. The interest on the debt for the federal fiscal year of 2010 was nearly $414 billion, Treasury Department figures show.

So, to see how fast the public debt is growing, we looked at the total on two other dates.
On Dec. 31, 2010, it was $9.4 trillion. A year earlier, the debt held by the public was $7.8 trillion.

Between the end of 2009 and April 6, 2011, the public debt has risen by an average of just above $4 billion a day. In 2010, it grew by an average of $4.3 billion a day. The pace of debt increase does seem to have slowed this year. The debt has risen by $250 billion between the end of 2010 and April 6, an average of $2.6 billion a day.

If you look at the total debt, the average daily increase is about $4.3 billion. In 2010, it grew by about $4.7 billion a day. In 2011, the total debt has risen by about $2.45 billion a day.

Our math shows the debt has grown by an average of more than $4 billion per day since 2009. It grew by that rate during 2010 as well. The average daily rate has slowed to slightly less than $3 billion so far this year. Either number shows the debt is indeed a big problem.

The senators’ op-ed did not detail what time frame they were discussing to spell out their claim. They said they were basing it off Warner’s claim that had been checked of what amounted to $5 billion a day and decided to be conservative and chose the $4 billion daily estimate. This year, their claim is off by about $1 billion. Over the last two years, it’s correct. Since the average daily debt through the first quarter of 2011 is more than $1 billion less than their statement, we rate the Chambliss claim as Mostly True.

Featured Fact-check

Our Sources

Op-ed by U.S. senators Saxby Chambliss and Mark Warner, "Saxby Chambliss calls for ‘tough choices’ to fix deficit," March 29, 2011

TreasuryDirect, Debt to the Penny

TreasuryDirect, Interest Expense on the Debt Outstanding

Forbes magazine, "New York Yankees Top Manchester United In Brand Value," April 27, 2010

Forbes magazine, "Michael Jackson's Estate Sale," June 26, 2009

PolitiFact Virginia, "The national debt grew by an estimated $15 billion last weekend," Dec. 9, 2011

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "New rail lines among proposed MARTA projects," March 29, 2011

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Eric Stirgus

Senators ring alarm about "$4 billion" daily debt

Support independent fact-checking.
Become a member!

In a world of wild talk and fake news, help us stand up for the facts.

Sign me up