Oops! Rick Perry Confused About the Deficit

The Texas governor flashes his keen grasp of budget details.

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Texas Gov. Rick Perry, speaks at the 40th annual Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Md., Thursday, March 14, 2013.

It looks like Rick Perry's grasp of the federal budget deficit matches his grasp of which federal cabinet departments he would like to shutter. Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC for short), the Texas governor was in the middle of the perfunctory jabs at President Obama over the sequester when he laid this budget-busting egg: "Our deficit is approximately equal to our GDP." That's a pretty startling and horrifying statement … and would only be more so if it were true.

Look I get that people sometimes have trouble keeping the deficit and the debt straight, but someone who has pretensions to the presidency ought to have his facts right in a prepared speech.

[ See a collection of political cartoons on the budget and deficit.]

The fact is that the U.S. GDP is upward of $15 trillion ($15.1 trillion in 2011, $15.7 trillion in 2012, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis) while the budget deficit for Fiscal Year 2013 is $872 billion, and declining, according to the Congressional Budget Office—it was $1.09 trillion in FY2012 and projects to go down to $616 billion in FY2014. (It's also important to remember that deficits have fallen this quickly only four other times in our history, and in all cases these rapid budget contractions have led to economic recessions.) If we had a $15 trillion budget deficit even strong liberals like me would sign onto the austerity bandwagon. But our deficit isn't close to equaling our GDP.

What is close to equaling GDP is our publicly held debt ($12.3 trillion in FY2013), though I'm obliged to point out that $12.3 trillion is not "approximately equal to" $15 trillion—even a Texan would have to acknowledge that $2.7 trillion is still a mighty big figure.

One more bit of Perry fact-checking. He went on:

The resolution to this debt-ceiling debacle led to the first downgrading of American credit in the history of this country. And we have a president who refuses to put a single plan on paper that seriously addresses the deficit spending, entitlement reform. Those are inexplicable.

[ See a collection of political cartoons on Congress.]

First off, the "debt-ceiling debacle" was wholly fabricated contrivance of congressional Republicans. It was a crisis they created, threatening to hold the country's credit hostage to their austerity agenda. There would have been no credit downgrade without the GOP-manufactured debt-ceiling crisis.

Second, President Obama may not have put his deficit reduction plan on paper, but he has put it on the White House website. I'd say that Perry's ignorance of its existence is "inexplicable" but really it's not.