The No. 1 Republican talking point these days seems to be this: Profligate spending by President Barack Obama is the reason we face a debt-ceiling crisis.
Any rational, reasonably well informed citizen should know that is not true. But prominent GOPers still chant it like a mantra. God only knows how many otherwise sane Americans are starting to believe it.
That's why a chart in Monday's New York Times should be sent to every household in the US of A. It shows, in clear, indisputable numbers, that policy decisions by Republican president George W. Bush led to spending that dwarfs financial outlays under Obama. (See the chart at the end of this post.)
In fact, the cost of just the Bush tax cuts ($1.8 trillion) exceeds the costs of all spending under Obama ($1.4 trillion).
The final tally--$5.07 trillion of spending under Bush, $1.44 trillion under Obama. By the way, those figures for Obama are projections from 2009 to 2017. In other words, both presidents are being judged in eight-year time frames. And Bush "wins" the spending contest in a runaway.
If my math is correct, spending under Bush was more than three times greater than that under Obama. Yet we still get bilge like this from the blog of U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA): "President Obama Refuses To Acknowledge That His Out Of Control Spending Sparked A Debt Crisis."
In a piece titled "The Chart That Should Accompany All Discussions of the Debt Ceiling," James Fallows of The Atlantic explains why the Times' graphic handiwork is so important:
It's based on data from the Congressional Budget Office and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Its significance is not partisan (who's "to blame" for the deficit) but intellectual. It demonstrates the utter incoherence of being very concerned about a structural federal deficit but ruling out of consideration the policy that was the largest single contributor to that deficit, namely the Bush-era tax cuts.
The chart is titled "Policy Changes Under Two Presidents," and Fallows says it is called that for a reason:
An additional significance of the chart: It identifies policy changes, the things over which Congress and Administration have some control, as opposed to largely external shocks--like the repercussions of the 9/11 attacks or the deep worldwide recession following the 2008 financial crisis. Those external events make a big difference in the deficit, and they are the major reason why deficits have increased faster in absolute terms during Obama's first two years than during the last two under Bush. (In a recession, tax revenues plunge, and government spending goes up--partly because of automatic programs like unemployment insurance, and partly in a deliberate attempt to keep the recession from getting worse.) If you want, you could even put the spending for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in this category: Those were policy choices, but right or wrong they came in response to an external shock.
The point is that governments can respond to but not control external shocks. That's why we call them "shocks." Governments can control their policies. And the policy that did the most to magnify future deficits is the Bush-era tax cuts. You could argue that the stimulative effect of those cuts is worth it ("deficits don't matter" etc). But you cannot logically argue that we absolutely must reduce deficits, but that we absolutely must also preserve every penny of those tax cuts. Which I believe precisely describes the House Republican position.
In other words, the GOP of 2011 is utterly illogical. But large chunks of the America public still lap up Republican sound bites.
Want another example of GOP rhetoric and its disconnect from reality? Republicans often explain away Bush's spending by saying, "Yes, but he had to deal with wars in Iraq and Afghanistan." Never mind that it was Bush's policy to start those wars without raising taxes to pay for them. But even when you consider only "non-defense discretionary spending," Bush still tops Obama easily. The totals in that category: $608 billion for Bush, $278 billion for Obama.
Why do we have a debt-ceiling crisis? The answer is clear: George W. Bush probably was the most fiscally irresponsible president in American history.
What is the GOP's plan for addressing the crisis? To pretty much continue the policies of the president who got us in this mess in the first place.
Perhaps most alarming is this: Recent news reports indicate the whole debate is not about deficits, debts, ceilings, or even arithmetic. It's about politics. Consider this from an Associated Press report earlier this week:
Obama wants legislation that will raise the nation's debt limit by at least $2.4 trillion in one vote, enough to avoid a recurrence of the acrimonious current struggle until after the 2012 elections.
Republicans want a two-step process that would require a second vote in the midst of a campaign for control of the White House and both houses of Congress.
Translation: Obama wants to solve the problem in a relatively long-term fashion; Republicans want to make sure that the issue is alive, and the economy still sucks, when voters go to the polls in November 2012. The GOP, in essence, wants to make political hay out of your economic misery.
That's an evil, anti-American scheme that would have made Osama bin Laden proud.