Olbermann’s ‘Federal Budget Debt’ Blunder — The Countdown

MSNBC’s “Countdown” show host, Keith Olbermann, recently claimed that today’s “federal budget debt” is “far less than it was throughout the Reagan administration.” He also said it is “about the same as it was in 1970.” Is he right? Tonight’s countdown:

10) What is a “federal budget debt”? No researcher, intern or night security guard told him that there is no such thing? No one fact checked him before he went on-air? Add this to the ever-growing catalog of Olbermann’s greatest hits kept by the indispensable NewsBusters.org.

9) There is a federal (or national) debt . There is an annual federal budget deficit .

8) Let’s assume he meant the “federal debt” — the amount of money the government owes. This number can be stated in dollars. It can also be stated as a percentage of gross domestic product (total value of goods and services we produce in a given year).

It makes more sense to talk about these numbers as a percentage of GDP. Consider two scenarios. Suppose you make 10K per year. You also owe 10K on your credit cards. Now suppose you make 100K per year. But, again, you owe 10K. In the second case, your debt is far less of a big deal because — as a percentage of your earnings — your debt went from 100 percent to 10 percent. Our economy usually grows every year, so stating debt as a percentage gives a better idea of its impact.

Either way — as dollars or a percentage of GDP — Olbermann was wrong about the debt.

At the end of 1988, the final full year of the Reagan presidency, the debt stood at $2.6 trillion. As a percentage of GDP, the debt stood at 52 percent.

Now examine President Barack Obama’s first year in office. It is part former President George W. Bush’s and part President Obama’s. (But as senator, Obama voted for the 2009 budget, which included the TARP bank bailout, since expanded.) In 2009, the debt was over $12 trillion. As a percentage of GDP, the debt was over 83 percent.

Obama’s first-year debt, therefore, is higher than the debt of any Reagan year by far — both in dollars and as a percentage of GDP. And 2010 is projected to continue this upward spiral.

7) Assume Olbermann didn’t mean “federal debt,” but meant “budget deficit” — the annual gap between what the government takes in and what the government spends.

During the Reagan presidency, the year in which he incurred the largest deficit in dollars was 1986.

The deficit was $221 billion. That year, the deficit, as a percentage of GDP, was 5 percent. Reagan’s deficit in 1983 was less in dollars — $207 billion — but it was 6 percent of 1983’s GDP, the highest percentage under his administration.

The 2009 deficit was $1.4 trillion — 9.9 percent of GDP.

Obama’s first-year deficit is higher than the deficit of any Reagan year by far — both in dollars and as a percentage of GDP.

6) Now examine Olbermann’s mind-boggling assertion that Obama’s “federal budget debt” is “about the same as it was in 1970.” In 1970, the deficit was 0.3 percent of GDP, or a total of almost $3 billion. The debt was 37.6 percent of GDP, or $380 billion. Whether compared with today’s deficit or debt, the 1970 numbers were microscopic.

5) Olbermann asserts that “federal budget debt” (assuming we understand what he means) is “a good thing.” Case closed? If a country runs up bills largely to fight a war to protect national security, one could argue that it is a good thing. If a country spends primarily on domestic programs — Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and/or “stimulus” — one could argue that a “federal budget debt” is a bad thing.

The president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, Thomas Hoenig, calls the current and projected deficits “stunning.” He says they run the risk of igniting inflation. He urges a reduction in spending, along with a call to increase revenue. The slippery slope of the housing bailout, he warns, could lead to demand to bail out other weak sectors of our economy. Where will it end, and at what cost to our standard of living and productivity?

4) Suppose Sarah Palin offered a wildly inaccurate take on the “federal budget debt”?

3) Viewers, at least some of them, now falsely believe Obama’s debt and deficit are about the same as Reagan’s. Since vile “right-wingers” love Reagan, they are, goes the argument, committing hypocrisy by complaining about today’s debt and deficit. Olbermann frequently accuses people of lying, something that requires an intention to mislead. Was he lying? Was he just ignorant? Anyone can have a bad show. It doesn’t make him — as he calls others — “the worst person in the world.”

2) How will Olbermann handle this blunder? A retraction? A correction? Ignore it and hope nobody notices because almost nobody watches?

1) Jon Stewart, at least, is funny.

  • http://borderline.gotdns.org/ Patrick Martin

    I would bet out of all three Olbermann regular viewers, not a one even noticed it. No retraction necessary.

    • Neil

      Patrick, I think that you're a bit too generous with Olbermann's total audience numbers, because the president asked the members of his staff to stop watching MSNBC about two weeks ago. Since his staff was the mainstay of his audience, I'm not certain if anyone is watching this lackluster blowhard any longer, except for comic relief.

  • betty boop

    The sad thing is that of those viewers, most are as virulently anti-rational as Keith is, fueled only by hate, so they'll believe anything he says! Baby-boomers (like alcoholics) are still stuck at about 16 years old and raging at Mom and Dad for not letting them borrow the car.

  • Stephen D.

    Robert, PLEASE stop with these automatic posts. When you speak we do listen but when you incessantly post the same stuff daily we scroll right past it. ESPECIALLY when it is irrelevant to the conversation. You make yourself the “Clanging Cymbal.” You become…irrelevant. Which is sad because when you do speak you are thought provoking and insightful. ENOUGH!!

    • Bruce


    • http://intensedebate.com/people/Rifleman Rifleman

      You're right, when he does really post, the one's I've read are very good. I was pleasantly surprised, because all I'd seen was his mindless repeat posts. I think everybody that wants that video had it saved to their hard drive months ago.

  • USMCSniper

    Olberman never makes any sense with his far left babble. He is like Bill Maher; annoying to say the least. He isn't a news broadcaster, he is a radical leftist propagandist. He should go find a spot in Obama’s administration because he would fit right in. Espn wouldnt even put that clown Olberman back on the air, so that tells you something about MSNBC as a news organization. MSNBC like most mainstraem media nowadays are so far left that their broadcasts are more like watching abad version of Saturday night live than a respectable nightly news show. It’s a joke like Olberman is.

    • txharleyman

      The sad thing is that the idiot Olberman is now on a weekly NFL broadcast. Rush is too contraversial for pro football, why isn't the idiot Olberman also thus?

  • mokshaone

    Under Reagan Congress was controlled by the Democratic Party. It is they who are ultimately responsible for any debt as it is they who approve the budget and spending. Presidents propose taxes, expenditures and such, but Congress are the ones who ultimately decide!

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/Rifleman Rifleman

      People also forget that President Reagan insistence on increasing the military budget by $100 billion to win the Cold War, while the dp congress increased domestic spending by $700 billion to lose, by their own assessment, the "war on poverty." Yet somehow President Reagan's (or did the msm revise that to charlie wilson?) $100 billion was the Reagan deficit.

      We can also laugh at anyone who says the GWOT somehow broke the bank when defense spending hasn't hasn't broke 5% of GDP in over 15 years. It took a sustained 30% of GDP to break the soviet union.

  • TrivialBS

    Of course Olbermann meant the 'federal debt.' Small mistake, taken out of proportion. What this article shows, in addition to Olbermann being wrong about the statistics, is how inordinately HIGH Reagan's federal debt was, especially as a so-called champion of small goverment. Government spending increased dramatically under Reagan, his successor raised taxes after promising not to. And so it goes…


    And it's truly a shame that 99% of the people forget that Congress has that 'Power'.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/Rifleman Rifleman

      Or that the dp has controlled it since 2007.

  • BS1977

    Ann Coulter made hash out of that babbling fool Olbermann. I can't believe this hack is still on cable TV…. The guy is an embarassment.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Rifleman Rifleman

    Olbie's great, the perfect person to represent the msm and lefty view. I can't watch a clip of one of his rants without half expecting to hear, "Live from New York…" I bet the Orbitz guy gets PO'd when people mistake him for Olbie, if he ain't busy ducking or shooting back, lol.

  • Bruce

    Olbermann's schtick is sarcasm and smear which he's quite good at. Facts are unimportant to him as with all liberals who run on emotion ( hatred of conservatives) not reason.

  • davarino

    I dont think he is human. I think he is just a cyberbot.

  • davarino

    Olbermann is a pompous ass. He thinks he is the smartest person on the planet, but doesnt realize he is the dumbest adolescent adult. I hope he isnt representative of the MSNBC crowd, cause damn, you guys are talking to the real dolts of this country. Way to make a difference. They need to be somewhere in the ballpark of reality for real people to pretend they are credible.

  • John C. Davidson

    Keith has found a home, finally–cuckoo land of the airways.

  • BS1977

    I heard for every viewer Olbermann has, O Reilly has 75 to 100. O Reilly may be rude and tedious at times, but he's stellar compared to Olbermoron.

    • Brian

      Oberman has a much larger audience than O'Reilly if you include his re-broadcast on tax funded NPR radio. As does Maddow.

  • BS1977

    RObert Bernier….BORE BORE BORE BORE BORE>…..you getting what we re saying?

  • Larry D. Crumbley

    Good old Keity-Boy Over-Bite could not get a fact right if it stared him in the face, and told him it was a true fact. His people that do his research are as stupid as he is, and that is saying a lot. What a putz. He is a disaster waiting to happen, and when it comes to journalism MSNBC-PUKE does not know what that word means. The worst cable channel on the tv now a days. Maybe Bill Gates will get smart, and stop sending them money to use in this loser of a cable-channel.


  • 080

    I think you misspelled the name: It's Doberman.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/doogle doogle

    You folks need to lay off Keithie. He's too busy right now trying to boost his ratings by dragging his father's hospital stay and apparent eventual passing to the TV screen. I'm sure everyone saw KO's rant last week in which he said "Last Friday night, my father asked me to kill him."

    And now, we have to put up with his brief interuptions into his own MSNBC show, which is being substitute hosted by Lawrence O'Donnell, so KO can describe "whatever" about his father and his situation which would be VASTLY improved if BOH has his way with our healthcare system.

    Understand, I only hope for the best for KO's father, and feel his pain at his father's condition (been there, done that). But KO is scum for using this to his viewership advantage.

    I wonder if KO has planned a particular program for his father's passing. Oh well, guess we'll have to check with the Death Panel to see when it's scheduled.