Bush vs. Obama: Federal Debt

U.S. Federal Debt, Source: U.S Treasury Direct, ©2011 Reflections of a Rational Republican

Nearly three years after Barack Obama became president, many liberals still insist that Bush is primarily responsible for running up the national debt. While the federal debt did increase by $4.9 trillion on President George W. Bush’s watch, it did not increase at remotely the same rate it is increasing under President Obama.

In fact, borrowing under President Obama is occurring at over 2.5x President Bush’s rate.

Yet the left continues to decry Bush’s wars and his tax cuts as the primary culprits of President Obama’s massive national debt increase. If the current President found the tax cuts fiscally irresponsible, why did he sign a bill that extended them during his first two years in office, when Democrats dominated both the legislative and executive branches?

It is time to stop pointing a finger at the last President, and start looking for solutions.

About Sean Patrick Hazlett

Finance executive, engineer, former military officer, and science fiction and horror writer. Editor of the Weird World War III anthology.
This entry was posted in Business, Finance and Economics, Media, Policy, Politics, Taxes and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to Bush vs. Obama: Federal Debt

  1. dedc79 says:

    I agree to an extent. I think the reason you see liberals (and hopefully non-liberals) blaming the last president is because the republican party would like everyone to ignore their substantial role in the current fiscal debacle. It is only natural that if a republican is going to act like this is all Obama’s fault, democrats will point out that much of the responsibility falls on republicans.

    That said, I do think Obama is complicit to the extent that he extended the bush tax cuts, and I hope he (and congress) allow them to expire.

  2. Scott Erb says:

    Yes – a solution. How about a $4 trillion deficit reduction package as a start, with only a small fraction coming from tax increases. The left hates it, shudders when the President talks about going back to “less domestic spending than during the Eisenhower Administration.” They are furious with him for giving so much to the GOP.

    Yet Boehner and McConnell still said “no, thanks.” The result: a downgrade.

    • This is, obviously, all very frustrating. Businessweek has a pretty good article about how game theory would have predicted this outcome. I don’t have the link handy, but you can find it if you google “debt ceiling, game theory, business week.”

      • Scott Erb says:

        Thanks, found it! A very interesting story. I feel like we’re back near the turn of the century, but instead of France, the UK and Germany engaged in diplomatic maneuvering and military posturing, the ‘war rooms’ are dealing with debt crises in Italy, saving the Euro, China’s rise, the US decline…from a purely academic standpoint, this is an absolutely thrilling and fascinating episode (especially factoring in the international stuff). Too bad it’s not just a game!

  3. Cody says:

    Yeah, you can look at historical tables from the OMB/CBO http://www.cbo.gov/ftpdocs/120xx/doc12039/HistoricalTables%5B1%5D.pdf and see that 2009/2010 deficits doubled the 2008 deficit in the last year of Bush’s presidency. I think the Bush administration did a lot of really irresponsible things, e.g. bailouts, asset relief, extended wars, etc. but it doesn’t absolve Obama of also having really abhorrent economic policy. I did an article http://entrylvl.wordpress.com/2011/08/01/the-debt-ceiling-revisited/ not too long ago on the debt plan, and one of the most powerful criticisms, apart from the downgrade thing, is that deficit reduction plans don’t actually address the problem.

    Reducing the deficit just reduces the rate at which the debt increases. It’s basically like “This plan lets us plunge further into debt, but we’re doing it more slowly than we otherwise would”. Even during the Clinton Era with its “surplus”, total debt/unfunded liabilities/etc. continued to increase. The surplus only existed because revenues exceeded outlays, and, even then, this was only the case because Clinton plundered the Social Security trust fund to pay off US debt obligations. Deficit reduction is nice and all, but, if it’s not going to pay down the debt, it’s useless for anything other than the symbolism. The only other proposal is tax increases, but you literally have to pillage all productive activity to get more than a drop in the bucket (because 10-20% hikes on the wealthy aren’t going to do anything), and, even then, spending will probably just accelerate because there are more assets to buffer an inflationary budget.

    By the way, thanks for the game theory article. That’s actually one of my big areas of interest, so it’s interesting to see it applied in a useful way (since most economists falsely dismiss it as being too simplistic).

  4. intrepidorator says:

    Yes, both parties are spending too much, and have been since the Republican congress and democrat Bill Clinton reformed welfare and produced a bdget surplus. The problem with both sides is that they seem unable to learn from the success in the past. Instead of increasing welfare spending we need to be cutting welfare as well as military spending. This needs to be coupled with tax reform that closes tax loopholes but does not increase tax rates.

  5. dreamchanter says:

    Rational Republican? Sounds like an oxymoron to me…

  6. doc says:

    Sean, while I agree dreamchanter’s comment is pretty useless, you must understand his sentiment, no? It is highly unusual to see political commentary in your country that bases itself on facts/numbers (at least not without manipulating them to suit their purposes… which by the way brings up the point that it might be more informative to show more of the history of the debt by adding to the left side of the graph). However, I’m pretty sure if you truly were rational, you’d see that both of your parties suck horribly and some other option like supporting an idependent or, perhaps depressingly, something more radical like Occupy(or the Tea Party before being co-opted) is the only available avenue for any kind of real improvements to the ridiculous state of your union. Good luck with that!

  7. George says:

    How do you square it with this graph from Washington Post.

    Since President Obama became chief executive, the national debt has risen almost $5 trillion. But how much of that was because of policies passed by Obama, and how much was caused by the financial crisis, the continuation of past policies and other effects? For this analysis, we worked with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities to attach a price tag to the legislation passed by Obama and his predecessor. George W. Bush’s major policies increased the debt by more than $5 trillion during his presidency. Obama has increased the debt by less than $1 trillion.

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