It's Bush's Deficit
by Jonathan Singer, Wed Jun 10, 2009 at 04:00:45 AM EDT
So says The New York Times' David Leonhardt:
You can think of that roughly $2 trillion swing [from the $800 billion surplus for 2009 through 2012 projected back at the end of the Clinton administration to the $1.2 trillion deficit now projected for the period] as coming from four broad categories: the business cycle, President George W. Bush's policies, policies from the Bush years that are scheduled to expire but that Mr. Obama has chosen to extend, and new policies proposed by Mr. Obama.
The first category -- the business cycle -- accounts for 37 percent of the $2 trillion swing. It's a reflection of the fact that both the 2001 recession and the current one reduced tax revenue, required more spending on safety-net programs and changed economists' assumptions about how much in taxes the government would collect in future years.
About 33 percent of the swing stems from new legislation signed by Mr. Bush. That legislation, like his tax cuts and the Medicare prescription drug benefit, not only continue to cost the government but have also increased interest payments on the national debt.
Mr. Obama's main contribution to the deficit is his extension of several Bush policies, like the Iraq war and tax cuts for households making less than $250,000. Such policies -- together with the Wall Street bailout, which was signed by Mr. Bush and supported by Mr. Obama -- account for 20 percent of the swing.
About 7 percent comes from the stimulus bill that Mr. Obama signed in February. And only 3 percent comes from Mr. Obama's agenda on health care, education, energy and other areas. [emphasis added]
That's right, folks. While the "deficit hawks" within the Republican Party are all up in arms(!) about proposed spending on healthcare, education, energy, etc. -- that is to say the agenda Barack Obama ran and won on in 2008 -- this platform makes up about 3 cents out of every dollar in deficit spending.
But where did all that other deficit come from, the other 97 cents? Much of it came from none other than George W. Bush, supported by those very same Republicans who now purport to dislike the deficit. Yes, a big part of today's deficit stems from the economic downturn, but at least part of that stems from the policies of the past eight years. Another 7 cents out of that dollar comes from the stimulus package proposed, then signed into law by Barack Obama -- but, again, that figure proximally results from the economic downturn, so all on the onus for this deficit spending can't be laid at the current President's feet.
Yet without getting into proximate causes and the like, we can say that a majority of the swing in the deficit -- 53 percent, to be exact -- comes from the policies of George W. Bush and the Republican Party. Per Leonhardt, this percentage stems from both Bush initiatives (33 percent) and from policies enacted under President Bush that are being continued under President Obama (20 percent).
I don't foresee this changing the tenor of the coverage of politics by the establishment media. Republicans will still be allowed to call themselves "fiscally conservative," even though their record clearly proves the opposite (see above). Nevertheless, it is apparent that while this deficit now belongs to Barack Obama, it was handed to him by George W. Bush and the Republican Party -- and was not a result of the stimulus or even attempts to reform healthcare or to achieve energy independence.