Deficit confusion, augmented by Steele
Earlier today on Fox News, RNC Chairman Michael Steele was asked whether Republicans would borrow from President Clinton’s famous catch-phrase during the 1992 campaign, “it’s the economy stupid,” in the run-up to the 2010 election. Steele proceeded to launch into a rambling answer that used fuzzy math to assert that, in only six months, President Obama has added “10 trillion dollars” to the national deficit, while President Bush is to blame for only “a trillion”:
STEELE: They love going back to George Bush and his deficit that was inherited. Great. I’ll take George Bush’s deficit right now of a trillion dollars over the 10 trillion dollars that this administration has created in just six months.
To help jog Steele’s memory, here’s a bit of a deficit recap: Bush inherited a budget surplus of $128 billion in 2001. Budget experts projected a $710 billion surplus for 2009 when he came into office. But the deficit soon exploded, thanks largely to the Bush tax cuts — which accounted for 42 percent of the deficit. When Bush left office, he handed President Obama a projected $1.2 trillion budget deficit for this year, the largest ever.
As for the debt, when President Bush took office, it was $5.73 trillion. When he left, it was $10.7 trillion.
Just last month, the New York Times published the results of an examination from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. The report, which examined federal spending stretching back almost a decade, found that Obama “is responsible for only a sliver of the deficits”:
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.
Try as Steele might, this is blame shifting that just won’t work — especially after the Bush administration made it clear that “deficits don’t matter.”