WASHINGTON — Former Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle recently pointed out a disturbing national milestone: The U.S. debt had surpassed the nation’s gross domestic product.

Here’s what the Republican U.S. Senate candidate said at an appearance before the Kaneohe Business Group last month: “For the first time in American history, the debt is now larger than the gross domestic product of America. This hasn’t happened before.”

Is Lingle correct? Not entirely.

What Lingle got right is the fact that the federal debt had surpassed the nation’s GDP. When Lingle addressed the business group, debt was estimated to be $15.236 trillion. The most recent estimate of GDP at that time was $15.199 trillion, according to the Commerce Department.

Since then, the federal debt has swelled to $15.295 trillion, according to the U.S. Treasury Department. And the latest estimate of GDP shows that it too has grown, to $15.294 trillion.

So what did Lingle get wrong?

Contrary to what the former governor claimed, this is not the first time in history that the federal debt has surpassed the value of the U.S. economy.

Federal Office of Management and Budget records1 show that the federal debt outpaced the country’s GDP for three years, the last year of World War II and the two following years.

In 1945, the gross federal debt represented nearly 118 percent of the GDP. The next year, debt was about 122 percent of the nation’s GDP. In 1947, the nation’s debt was 110 percent of its GDP.

By 1948, federal debt was down to 98 percent of the GDP, and that percentage continued to shrink until it hovered around 33 percent in the late 1970s before creeping up again. The White House predicts that the gross federal debt will exceed the nation’s GDP through at least 2016.

Bottom line: Lingle was right that debt surpassed GDP. But Lingle’s claim that “this hasn’t happened before” is false.

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