Robert Samuelson writes about the magnitude of our growing debt. He argues that while certainly the Republicans can be faulted for irresponsible spending habits, Obama is now taking it to a new level:
Obama likes to depict himself as a deficit victim. He inherited a huge deficit and a deep recession. Not his fault.
Certainly the Republicans during the Bush years were fiscally irresponsible. But within historical bounds. The deficits in Obama’s budget are beyond historical bounds and are his alone.
Even with Bush’s tax cuts, federal revenues in 2007 were at the average as a percentage of GDP, 18.5 percent, going back to 1960. The deficit was just 1.2 percent of GDP, historically on the low side. Accumulated federal debt was 36 percent of GDP.
Then the recession hit. From 2008 to 2009, federal spending increased 18 percent. This was a budget year that straddled the Bush and Obama presidencies. But the spending increase was driven by anti-recession measures, predominately the Bush stimulus and bailouts.
Obama supported these measures. In fact, his complaint about the Bush stimulus was that it was too small.
This raises a question of political ontology: If Obama agreed with Bush, is it still just Bush’s fault?
The Bush tax cuts expire this year. Except for the legacy costs of the Iraq war, Obama is free to recommend changing anything Bush did. The deficits he recommends from 2011 on are purely his own.
And they are massive, and driven by spending.
There’s another point here that I think is worth making. Not only did then-Senator Obama and most Democrats support things like Bush’s original stimulus, throughout the decade, Democrats were arguing for more spending, not less. Other than complaining about the cost of the Iraq war, Democrats weren’t making the case that we need to reign in domestic spending – quite the opposite. When Republicans passed the prescription drug bill, Democrats weren’t against it because it was another entitlement program that would add to the government’s liabilities. They thought it was too stingy – they wanted a much bigger one.
That’s not to absolve Republicans for runaway spending when they were in charge, but it’s ridiculous for Democrats to feign horror about Bush era spending habits.