The statement: "Since taking office, Ben Chandler has allowed Congress to run up $9 trillion in new debt."
Mailer sent by the Republican Party of Kentucky
The ruling: Mostly false
The facts: Andy Barr is the Republican challenging U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler, D-Versailles, in the Nov. 6 election. In a mailer sent to Central Kentucky homes to promote Barr, the Kentucky Republican Party said "Chandler has run up $9 trillion in new debt in eight years."
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The national debt has soared from $7 trillion to $16 trillion since Chandler took office in February 2004, according to the U.S. Treasury Department.
However, Chandler is one of 535 members of Congress. Without a leadership post or committee chairmanship, he has limited power to affect federal spending. For instance, Chandler voted three times against raising the federal debt limit under President George W. Bush, and he voted against the $700 billion bank bailout in 2008. He was outvoted every time.
Also, several factors outside Chandler's control added to the debt. Some occurred before he took office, including the Bush tax cuts and the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, all of which happened between 2001 and 2003. The economy collapsed in 2008, leading to a prolonged and painful recession that reduced tax revenue and spurred additional federal spending.
"I'm not sure how you can attribute all the changes in federal spending to one person," said William Hoyt, chairman of the economics department at the University of Kentucky Gatton School of Business and Economics.
"The reality is that you can say this about most members of Congress. It's one of those misleading things the political parties send out around this time in election years," said Richard Waterman, a political scientist at UK who teaches about the federal government and public policy.
In fact, the national debt has risen from $1.8 trillion in 1985, when U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky took office, to $16 trillion this month. Unlike Chandler, a rank-and-file congressman, McConnell supported much of that spending as a Republican caucus leader and senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Assisting Bush, McConnell helped push through the $700 billion bank bailout that Chandler opposed.
Steve Robertson, chairman of the state Republican Party, said in an interview this week it would be unfair to accuse McConnell of running up $14.2 trillion in debt over 27 years simply because he was in Congress at the time.
"Mitch McConnell as the Senate Republican leader is fighting what President Obama is trying to do each and every day in Washington," Robertson said.
Campaign Watchdog finds the state Republican Party's mailer to be mostly false. The math is correct, but it's unreasonable to assign Chandler the full responsibility for increased federal debt, some of which he opposed or could not control.