Deficit Ownership: 53% Is Bush's, 10% Is Obama's

Deficit Ownership: 53% Is Bush's, 10% Is Obama's


A couple of days ago, I read a piece in Politico about the Republican’s strategy in 2010. Long story short, it’s all about blaming Obama for the current deficits.

In fact, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas actually said this (I’m presuming with a straight face) …

“This was not an inherited situation. This was a matter entirely of this administration’s and this Democratic leadership’s making,” Cornyn said. “In large part, I believe, 2010 will be a referendum on their performance.”

Hmmm, that’s odd…

Because I seem to remember somebody inheriting a budget surplus in 2000. And had he kept the budget balanced, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the we would be running surpluses of $800B from 2009 through 2012.

The New York Times does the math on how the numbers shake out, and they don’t bode well for Republicans…or Democrats…

You can think of that roughly $2 trillion swing 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.

But let’s get back to the initial point…the GOP’s 2010 strategy. Republicans must have a plan to reduce the deficit, right?


Judd Gregg recently held up a chart on the Senate floor showing that Mr. Obama would increase the deficit — but failed to mention that much of the increase stemmed from extending Bush policies. In fact, unlike Mr. Obama, Republicans favor extending all the Bush tax cuts, which will send the deficit higher.

Republican leaders in the House, meanwhile, announced a plan last week to cut spending by $75 billion a year. But they made specific suggestions adding up to meager $5 billion. The remaining $70 billion was left vague. “The G.O.P. is not serious about cutting down spending,” the conservative Cato Institute concluded.

I will say, though, that the GOP is right politically. The deficit will become a huge issue in the coming years. But unless they’re willing to bite the bullet and roll back Bush’s prescription drug plan and his tax cuts, they’re more than 5 times as guilty as Obama is when it comes to driving up the deficit.

  • ExiledIndependent

    So is Obama tacitly admitting that many Bush policies were…wait for it…right? Or Obama is continuing wrongheaded Bush policies? Judging from the lefty squealing during the Bush admin, and the political campaigning from every Dem candidate, every decision that Bush made should have been ripped up from the roots on Jan. 20. I’m going to guess that “Bush created a situation where Obama *had* to continue funding the programs.” Betcha I captured the spin on that one correctly.

  • gerryf

    No, he is admitting that you cannot simply undo everything Bush did in 6 months due to political reasons and practical reasons due to the disaster of the last 8 years.

    You don’t throw away your paddle when your in the middle of the ocean just because the last guy cracked it. You paddle to shore as well as you can and then throw it out.

  • Simon

    So: 53% is Bush’s, 10% is Obama’s, which, put another way, is a claim that in five months, Obama has already spent nearly a fifth of what it took Bush eight years to rack up. At this rate, in yet other words, Obama will have outspent Bush’s eight years in just over two years from now. (Ceteris paribus, that is, but do you really see this President being the type to significantly cut federal spending?)

    If we’re to compare apples to apples, we have to normalize the contributions by dividing those numbers into months in office. Bush’s share is 0.552% per month, while Obama’s is 10.6% per month. Well done!

  • ExiledIndependent

    By the way, free speech and gay rights activists should be crying foul at China. They are now requiring all PCs to include “Green Dam” software that originally was supposed to filter adult content, but now will also block access to online gay communities as well as political content. I’d suggest writing letters to manufacturers stating opposition to this practice. And maybe we should stop selling our automobile manufacturing to them as well (I’m talking to you, Government Motors. There was *really* no domestic buyer for Hummer?). While I applaud passionate activism here at home, we are light years ahead of countries such as China in terms of personal liberties.

  • Mike A.


    Normalization given the last 6 months of non-normal events is ridiculous. Normalization assumes some level of normal behaviour and an applicable sample timeframe.

    For example – if I take your above misapplication of mathematical sampling, and use this as my sample, I could state that Simon misuses mathematical principals once per day. In fact, given it may have taken you something on the order of 15 minutes to write your post, I could claim you err at a rate of 4 times per hour, or 192 times per day. ;P

  • Tully

    The NYT is being less than honest in both its accounting and its assumptions. I’m filing this one in my “media bias” file.

    First off, some basic civics. It is not truly fair to load the responsibility for spending completely or even primarily onto the White House, regardless of the occupant. Presidents have only two real tools there, moral suasion and the veto pen. CONGRESS is the money pit. Presidents are the figureheads and scapegoats. Moral suasion works best when both houses of Congress are held by the President’s party, a condition that applied in only four of the eight years of the Bush admin (and only marginally for two of those) but which has applied for the entire Obama admin.

    Next, and quite glaringly, NYT discounts carryover “Bush” policy (which is actually controlled by Congress) against Obama, while not discounting any Clinton policy carryover against Bush. Uh huh. Not buying.

    Next, and glaringly, even if you ignore that Congress holds the purse strings, Obama has just as much power to rescind Bush policy as Bush had to make it. Not doing so is Obama’s choice, and so those continuations should count against Obama in any equitable assessment. This is blatant double-scoring.

    Next, neither Bush nor Obama is responsible for the ongoing demographics that drive the SS/Medicare deficits (though Bush and Congress both hold responsibility for Med Part D, and Congress holds enduring responsibility for SS/Medicare anyway). Likewise, Clinton was not responsible for the buildup in the SS/Medicare “trust funds” on his watch — but the NYT gives him credit for them, while ignoring that any increase in said funds is also a de facto increase in government debt. And BTW, Bush did not “inherit” any surplus. Total government debt in fact rose throughout the entire Clinton presidency, and phantom future surpluses showed only by keeping the growth in SS/Medicare debt offline while putting the SS/Medicare collections online and making some VERY rosy growth assumptions, assumptions that were already factually defunct before the 2000 election. Ignoring SS/Medicare on one side does not make that related debt go away. More dishonest double-scoring.

    One could go on and on. For example, the Berkeley economist quoted in the article said himself in a 1999 paper that annual deficits would rise in period 2001-2020 by 1.5% of GDP even if every penny of the phantom futurre “surpluses” were saved instead of spent. For reference, that annual increase, projected well before the 2000 elections, would be close to 40% of the current 4% GDP deficit projections. Said economist was not the only one who looked on the CBO & OMB assumptions of the time as being idiotically optimistic and unreliable.

    IOW, someone has SERIOUSLY stacked the cards in this purported “analysis” in order to deal out the hands they wanted to see.

  • Dok

    This may be a little off topic, but i’m going to have to disagree on the whole “surplus” thing. there was never any “surplus”. if nobody has pointed you this way, check out this article:

  • Justin Gardner

    Tully, where to begin…

    First off, please don’t lecture us about how government works. We’re all well aware. But remember that Bush had both the House and Senate on his side, he didn’t veto any piece of legislation in 7 years and the prescription drug plan was his idea. So were the tax cuts. So to say he’s not responsible is, well, irresponsible. And to claim that somehow proves media bias is even more irresponsible.

    Second, that’s fair about Clinton, but surpluses were projected for the budget. I understand you don’t agree with those numbers, but those were the Congressional Budget Office’s findings, not the NY Times.

    Third, of course Obama could roll these back. The article says exactly that when they quote that economist. And Obama plans to let the tax cuts for the wealthiest expire, and he’ll probably hike capital gains back up as well. Also, if he can get health care reform passed and tighten up the Medicare ship, there’s a possibility he could get the drug plan fixed too. But these things take time. However, he did inherit those expenses, he didn’t create them. And when you juxtapose that reality with what Cornyn said, I think we can both agree that he’s out to lunch.

    Fourth, you have your numbers and the NY Times has theirs…which, again, are created by the Congressional Budget Office. And there are plenty of caveats in that article. But the takeaway is contained with the last sentence, “That is the legacy of our trillion-dollar deficits. Erasing them will be one of the great political issues of the coming decade.” So, again, these charges of media bias are frankly a bit lazy when the entire point of the article was to dig through the past and current causes of the debt load we have.

    Last, for you to say someone seriously stacked the cards doesn’t square with the reality. Were some programs overlooked? Most likely. But that’s why Bush wasn’t responsible for 90% of the budget deficits we’re facing.


    They were surpluses in the only way they could be counted…on public debt. The President has no say in how the Social Security system uses its surpluses to buy US Government Securities. I’m not saying it’s not a problem, but we’re talking about the budget here, not intergovernmental debt that’s mandated by law.

  • Dave

    The last time I checked Obama was President, not Bush. Also the Democrats (including Senator Obama) have had control of Congress since 2007. Why not hold Obama accountable for his votes in the Senate? Like he voted for the nearly $3 trillion FY2008 budget:
    Over and above the fact that Obama is President now and not Bush, it is lame to not hold Obama accountable for his votes as Senator and to instead ridiculously claim he “inherited” what he willfully decided to vote for. When is Obama going to be responsible for the deficits? Like gosh, he’s only the President of the United States.

  • Tully

    But remember that Bush had both the House and Senate on his side

    Wrong. As noted, he had an undivided house/senate for only half his admin, and he had to rely on Cheney’s Senate tie-breaker vote for half of that. Wheredo you get the idea that the GOP owned both House and Senate for all eight years of Bush’s presidency?

    he didn’t veto any piece of legislation in 7 years and the prescription drug plan was his idea. So were the tax cuts. So to say he’s not responsible is, well, irresponsible.

    You just went 0 for 2 there. I mentioned the veto pen as the only tool other than moral suasion that the Prez has to actually affect appropriations and spending. Obama hasn’t used it yet either. So? Irrelevant–mentioned only as to being an available tool, not in reference to either one actually using it.

    Next, the “Bush” tax cuts were originally proposed well before Bush was elected, much less reached office, in 1997, and reached near-final form in 1999. In early 1999, to be exact. Tell me again, who was President in 1997-1999? Nope, not Bush’s idea.

    You might also want to review the legislative history of the Med Part D bill, which originated in Congress in the wake of the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 (which contained some major Medicare reforms) and was debated and negotiated for six years. Um, one more time, who was president in 1998? And once again, nope, not Bush’s idea.

    I understand you don’t agree with those numbers, but those were the Congressional Budget Office’s findings, not the NY Times.

    NYT picked the numbers that suited their preferred narrative, even though they were known at the time they were issued to be invalid. The bubble had already burst, recession had begun, and the numbers were obvious COA (crap on arrival). They were still known to be crap a year later. And the year after that…and so on. Intentionally picking numbers you KNOW were wrong when they were issued and continuously verifed wrong thereafter does indeed speak to media bias. Stacking the deck by using an invalid (and imaginary) baseline. Those predicted future surpluses never existed outside of a most-optimistic scenario that was obsolete before it was even drawn up. Yet NYT is treating them today as both real and inevitable…and then in a different context quoting an economist that debunked them before they were even issued. (PS–the “CBO did it” line is an argument from authority, that dependable logical fallacy, and a nice illustration of WHY it is indeed a fallacy.)

    Third, of course Obama could roll these back.

    Yet he has not, so he “owns” them just as much as his predecessor. Period. If you claim that Bush is responsible for putting them in, then Obama is just as responsible for not taking them out, and blaming the predecessor is dishonest. “Look what you made me do!” Heh.

    I don’t actually lay that on Obama, anymore than I lay it on Bush, I simply say that if one is silly enough to buy into such blatantly incorrect claims, then honesty requires that they swing both ways. In reality Congress is responsible, no matter how much we may enjoy kicking or cheering our current or former national designated scapegoats. Apparently the civics/government lecture WAS needed, as that’s key to the claims made, and apparently people want to ignore how government works in order to play that scaegoat game. Once you concede how government really works, the article becomes superfluous, no?

    So, again, these charges of media bias are frankly a bit lazy when the entire point of the article was to dig through the past and current causes of the debt load we have.

    Puffery, and steer manure. The point of the article was to take popular blame off of Obama and back-transfer it to Bush in order to make Obama look better. The structure and content indicates that it is the result of either cheerleading ignorance or intentional deck-stacking. Pick one. Either way, it’s bias.

    Once again, I don’t blame Obama for those things outside the scope of his actual powers. His only responsibility there lies in the power of moral suasion and the use (or not) of the veto pen. And yes, that’s the exact same position I took with regards to Bush.

  • Justin Gardner

    Now hold on just a second Tully. As you mentioned, Presidents don’t pen legislation, but they certainly have agendas and use the bully pulpit to push things through that otherwise wouldn’t have happened. And yes, Congress has to get it rolling, but for you to suggest that the veto is in the only true way for a Prez to claim ownership is frankly a bit procedurally blind to how it all works in the media and beyond.

    Listen, Bush had the House and Senate when he was inaugurated, then it switched in the summer of 2001 when Jeffords became an Indy, and then it flipped back during the 2002 elections. It stayed that way until 2006. During those periods, he passed the tax cuts, the Medicare Part D, the capital gains cut AND the war resolution with Repubs in control. ALL of those things were pushed from the bully pulpit by Bush.

    However, fair enough that you don’t lay it at the President’s feet. But couldn’t you still swap the names in the title for Republicans and Democrats? And let’s not forget my overarching point here…that Republican leaders are trying to lay the entire thing at Obama’s feet.

    Also, just b/c he didn’t immediately repeal everything that Bush did doesn’t mean he’s explicitly responsible for them or that he didn’t inherit these problems. I seriously can’t believe you’re saying he owns Bush era legislation just as much as Bush? That’s just flat out unrealistic. Again, go back to my overarching point.

    As far as media bias goes, we’ll just have to agree to disagree. You’re seeing some pretty specific things in an article that uses widely quoted numbers that few dispute. You can have your calculations, but I don’t think that this is a hack job just b/c the NY Times doesn’t adopt yours.

  • Tully

    You’re seeing some pretty specific things in an article that uses widely quoted numbers that few dispute.

    I’m sorry, but absolutely everyone disputed them when they came out. Certainly everyone with an ounce of knowledge in the area. They were obsolete on release in Jan 2001, and they were pre-released before Bush reached office. And they were indeed false-to-fact even before they were released. As I have said so often, the argument from authority is a fallacy for good reason. Worshipping a lie does not make it a truth, no matter how august or respected the personage or institution uttering it.

    And yes, I believe I repeatedly mentioned moral suasion (“the bully pulpit” as you put it) as the major influence a President has on legislation. Obama has that same power. And he is notably running away from repealing those tax cuts. Of course, all he has to do is wait until 2011 and they go away on their own, so he so he can be a bully-pulpit weenie and do nothing and still get the benefit of a tax increase. And yes, you said those two things were Bush’s idea–and they most patently were not. He was not in office when they originated. Period. Any more than Obama was in office when the $787B grab bag of pent-up pork in ARRA (“the stimulus”) was initially compiled.

    Speaking of those “Bush” tax cuts, let’s look at the projected fairy-dust surpluses from that CBO report the NYT is so in love with, versus the actual budget figures for the period that Bush was in office but BEFORE those tax cuts became effective and could have any actual effect on actual revenue collections. And check the spending at the same time, so we can tell what effect it had compared to the so-poorly-predicted revenues.

    In 2001 there was little that could be done to alter the budget established by the previous Congressional session–budgets don’t have their effect until the next budget cycle. And there were no “stimulus” bills passed, and the initial tax cut package would not affect revenues until at least the following year (much later, actually, due to the phase-in provisions, but for simplicity…). So if the CBO report was so on target, so reliable, so dependable, so respectably accurate and knowledgable, that one year at least should provide a VERY close match to the CBO forecast.

    CBO was aware of the ongoing recession, and that was already factored in. So how well did their fairy-dust forecast match the actual results for that one year, which should have been a predictive slam-dunk lock for them?

    CBO forecast a $128B on-budget (not counting SS/Medicare) surplus, and a $281B total surplus including SS/Medicare. Actual results? On-budget DEFICIT of $32.4B, and a total surplus of $128B including SS/Medicare. That’s a predictive shortfall of $160.4B in the on-budget prediction and a $153B predictive shortfall on the total budget. (Which BTW tells you that SS/Medicare brought in $7B more than predicted. Also BTW, I am not using “my own numbers” here. I am using CBO reports exclusively, though I confess to using the ones that report actual historical revenues, not fairy-dust predictions of potential future revenues. Also also BTW, CBO’s projection for actual total spending was within $10B for 2001, so increased spending was not the culprit.)

    EPIC FAIL for the one year that should have been a slam-dunk for them. As predicted by myself and damn near every other living breathing analyst that wasn’t partisanly obligated to believe in fairy dust and clap our hands for Tinkerbell. Anyone using the CBO 10-year forecast with any claim to it remotely resembling reality can and should be abused for doing so, and the NYT’s math-trained econ writer has NO excuse other than bias or incompetence. And I don’t believe he’s incompetent. Heck, even the CBO said when they issued it that it was a wild-assed guess for the out years, and refused to vouch for its accuracy. Turns out it was a WAG for the in years too.

    Let’s check that next year, 2002, even though the first round of “Bush tax cuts” was phase-in tax cuts with almost none of them yet taking effect. Also ought to be a reasonably easy task for the vaunted experts of CBO, IF their base assumptions bore any passing resemblance to reality, no? They boldly predicted an on-budget surplus of $142B, and an off-budget surplus of $171B, for a total surplus of $313B.

    Actual results? An on-budget DEFICIT of $317B and an off-budget surplus of $159B, for a total deficit of $158B, a grand total EPIC FAIL miss of $471B. And the CBO spending projection was within $90B, so once again spending was most certainly not the major culprit. And neither were the tax cuts, which for the most part had not even begun to take effect. Their base assumptions just plain sucked.

    Anyhow, the point is that the CBO forecast the NYT is touting was indeed Crap On Arrival (as in “big heaping steaming smelly piles of”) well before Bush had any real effect on the budget, and using same can and should draw abuse from anyone more interested in reality than propaganda.

    Yes, the GOP is trying to lay more at Obama’s feet than he deserves. And I said so. But the NYT is trying to lay one hell of a lot more back on Bush than HE deserves. And the NYT is also BS’ing estimates of things such as unpassed “agenda” items that are not yet accurately scorable. And yes, that all adds up to deck-stacking that amounts to open bias from a media outlet. And yes, the bulk of the blame for the problem (to realists not sucking on any party or ideological teat) still comes back to Congress, both houses, both parties, going back a LOT farther than the less-than-a-decade the NYT chose as an arbitrary baseline.