Which U.S. President generated the highest budget deficits?
Students use data from the U.S. Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to rank the magnitudes of nominal budget deficits or surpluses generated between 1969 and 2008 and to identify the corresponding Presidential Administrations. The ranking is recalculated using budget deficits and surpluses measured as a percentage of GDP.
Context for Use
Description and Teaching Materials
CBO Budget Deficit Spreadsheet (Excel 60kB Sep28 09)
Teaching Notes and Tips
The instructor starts with a general discussion of budget deficits. During the discussion, students would be asked to identify the Presidents in office from 1969 to 2008. Students would also predict the administration in which the budget deficits were the highest. The instructor could mention (or solicit from students) the highly publicized fact that deficits during the recent Bush Administrations were the highest since World War II.
Students working individually or in groups would be given nominal CBO budget deficit and surplus data from the attached spreadsheet. Alternatively, students could be assigned the task of locating these data on the internet. Students would then rank order the 1969 – 2008 data from the highest deficit to the highest surplus and identify the administration at the top of the list.
Students would then be given, or asked to retrieve, the CBO data with budget deficits and surpluses measured as a percentage of GDP. Using this new set of data, students would again rank order from the highest deficit to the highest surplus and identify changes in the in the rankings.
The instructor would then lead a discussion as to whether or not the nominal data would be the best way to compare budget deficits and surpluses over time. Leading questions could solicit facts about how both GDP and inflation varied considerably during this time period.