Accuracy in Media

When it comes to the debt ceiling debate, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews has found a familiar scapegoat — President Bush — as he blamed the former president for saddling the U.S. with half the national debt in an interview with GOP Congressman Steve Scalise of New York.

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Scalise: President Obama came in saying we’ve got to just keep ramping up the spending in Washington and look where that’s got us. It’s gotten us with 9.2% unemployment and now this $1.5 trillion deficit this year. We’ve got to turn this around.

Matthews: You know this bed was on fire when he got in it. Let’s be honest about it.

Scalise: And both sides have blame Chris.

Matthews: Your guy Bush didn’t veto a single spending bill. And by the way Bush got a big tax cut, two big wars, a big tax cut, a prescription drugs bill that wasn’t funded. We had a guy on last night that showed that almost half the federal debt was caused by Bush over the eight years that he was in the office. That’s serious business.

Scalise: President Obama loves blaming President Bush.

Matthews: No, I just did it. I just did it.

The only problem is that Matthews’ guest the previous night, Bruce Bartlett, a disgruntled former Bush administration official, embellished the numbers to make a stronger case that the debt was largely Bush’s fault.

Bartlett said that when Bush came into office the debt was $6 trillion (actual $5.7)  and that when he left office it had grown to $12 trillion (actual $10.6) which is a large number but not exactly the doubling of the debt that Bartlett claimed.

Matthews made it worse, though, by saying that we have a $14 trillion debt and that Bush was responsible for half of it.

First of all, even using Bartlett’s faulty numbers he was talking about six trillion, not seven.

And based on the real numbers from the Treasury Department the debt increased by $4.9 trillion, which is 34% of the current $14.3 trillion debt we currently owe. That may still be a big number but it isn’t half the debt.

Also in just a little over two and a half years the debt has grown 25% under Obama, which is much faster than the 18% it grew under Bush at the same point in time in his presidency. Last week on the floor of the Senate, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) described it this way: “The total amount of money spent since the President took office is $8.5 trillion dollars. By the end of his first three years in office we will have added $5 trillion to our gross federal debt.”

But the facts don’t matter to Chris when he’s trying to make a point.

It looks like it’s time to send Matthews back to school for some remedial math training.

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