Andrew Sullivan is correct about this:
If you are ever under the delusion that modern conservatism means fiscal responsibility, or that the current president hasn’t been a fiscal catastrophe
His graph is taken from this post, which notes:
But wait a minute! All of the so-called “debt clocks” show that the national debt is now in excess of $9 trillion. Where is the $4 trillion discrepancy?
Andrew’s graph shows the increase in the absolute value of the debt held by the public in part is growing because of rising prices and in part because the real economy is growing. From 2001 to 2007, this debt relative to GDP grew from 33.0% to 36.8% – which is bad but doesn’t sound awful. The $9 trillion figure is total Federal debt, which was 65.8% as of 2007 as compared to 57.4% as of 2001.
The answer lies to that discrepancy question can be found here :
Intragovernmental Holdings is the name given to a method that is used to keep track of money that the government has borrowed from several government agencies—the primary one of which is the Social Security Administration.
Using the debt held by the public as one’s metric lets this Administration off the hook for their attempt to raid the Social Security Trust Fund.