The reality is that he did both. The chart the GOP typically uses ends at 2012, and conveniently ignores the recession and 2013.
The sources are listed below, but here are the raw numbers:
- The deficit in fiscal year 1992 was $0.290 trillion. (Clinton's first year)
- The surplus in fiscal year 2000 was $0.236 trillion. (Clinton's last year)
- The deficit in fiscal year 2008 was $0.458 trillion. (Bush's last year)
- The deficit in fiscal year 2009 was $1.412 trillion. (Obama's first year)
- The deficit in fiscal year 2012 was $1.087 trillion.
- This May, the Congressional Budget office has projected that the fiscal year 2013 deficit would shrink to $0.642 trillion.
So, Clinton reduced the deficit by $0.526 trillion (and left a surplus) by the time he left office
If the CBO is accurate, then Obama will have increased the deficit by "only" $0.184 trillion after his first five years.
That, and that while Obama definitely tripled the deficit, but you'd have to be crazy to think that McCain wouldn't have done the same. Remember, 2008/2009 was ground zero in the great recession, and the government was spening cash madly in order to prevent the economy from falling into a depression. Since that crisis was averted, and long since the crazy days of the recession, the deficit has been steadily dropping again. By the end of his first term, Obama had increased the deficit less than Bush did in two terms. If the Congressional Budget Office is accurate, then in 2013 Obama will have only increased the deficit by $0.183 trillion. Hope springs eternal that by the end of Obama's term, we'll be back in surplus territory again.