Historic Budget Deficits By President

Which Presidents Oversaw the Largest Budget Deficits?

Who's responsible for the biggest budget deficits in U.S. history? You could argue that it's Congress, which approves spending bills. You could argue it's the president, who sets the national agenda, delivers his budget proposals to lawmakers and signs off on the final tab.

You could blame it on the lack of a balanced-budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution or not enough use of sequestration. The question of who's to blame for the biggest budget deficits is up for debate, and will ultimately be decided by history.

This article deals solely with the numbers, the size of the biggest deficits in history. These are the 10 biggest budget deficits by raw amount, and they haven't been adjusted for inflation. The list of the 10 biggest budget deficits uses data from the Congressional Budget Office.

Note: The federal government's fiscal year runs from from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30.

You can find a longer list of federal budget deficits here. To find out which party controlled Congress when these budget deficits were incurred go here.

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$1.4 Trillion - 2009

President Bush Holds News Conference
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images News/Getty Images

The biggest federal deficit on record is $1,412,700,000,000. Republican George W. Bush was president for about a third of the 2009 fiscal year, and Democrat Barack Obama took office and was president for the remaining two thirds.

The largest budget deficit ever incurred came as the country was fighting several wars and the president declined to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans. It also came during the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. The $1.4 trillion deficit was the direct result of legislation signed by Bush.

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$1.3 Trillion - 2011

President Barack Obama
President Barack Obama signs the Budget Control Act of 2011 in the Oval Office, Aug. 2, 2011. Official White House Photo/Pete Souza

The second largest budget deficit in U.S. history was $1,299,600,000,000 and occurred during President Barack Obama's presidency. To prevent future deficits, Obama proposed higher taxes on the wealthiest Americans, and spending freezes to entitlement programs and military expenses.

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$1.3 Trillion - 2010

Barack Obama
President Barack Obama. Mark Wilson / Getty Images News

The third largest budget deficit is $1,293,500,000,000 and came during Obama's presidency.

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$1.1 Trillion - 2012

Obama Benghazi Picture
President Barack Obama pauses as he makes a statement in response to the attack at the U.S. Consulate in Libya. Alex Wong/Getty Images

The fourth biggest budget deficit was $1,089,400,000,000 and occurred during Obama's presidency.

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$459 Billion - 2008

Bush delivers 2002 State of Union
Bush delivers his 2002 State of the Union address. Whitehouse Photo

The fifth-largest budget deficit was $458,600,000,000 and occurred during Bush's presidency.

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Murse, Tom. "Historic Budget Deficits By President." ThoughtCo, Sep. 24, 2016, thoughtco.com/historic-budget-deficits-by-president-3368289. Murse, Tom. (2016, September 24). Historic Budget Deficits By President. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/historic-budget-deficits-by-president-3368289 Murse, Tom. "Historic Budget Deficits By President." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/historic-budget-deficits-by-president-3368289 (accessed January 20, 2018).