24 Feb 2009

Democrats’ Fiscal Hypocrisy

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Byron York reminds readers of Congressional democrats posing as deficit hawks back when George W. Bush was in the White House. Now that they have control of Congress and the White House they are using the recession as a pretext for a budgetary blowout calculated to make the Great Society look like a Presbyterian picnic. Americans will be paying for Obama’s first month in office for a generation.

Back in 2006, when Democrats were hoping to win control of the House and Senate, party leaders worked themselves into a righteous outrage over the issue of out-of-control federal spending. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called the Republican budget “irresponsible” and “unpatriotic” because it increased the amount of U.S. debt held by foreign countries. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., accused Republicans of going on “an unprecedented and dangerous borrowing spree” and declared GOP leadership “the most fiscally irresponsible in the history of our country … no other president or Congress even comes close.”

You won’t find too many defenders of George W. Bush’s record on spending these days, even among Republicans. But a check of historical tables compiled by the Office of Management and Budget shows that the spending that so distressed Pelosi and Reid seems downright modest today. After beginning with a Clinton-era surplus of $128 billion in fiscal year 2001, the Bush administration racked up deficits of $158 billion in 2002, $378 billion in 2003, $413 billion in 2004, $318 billion in 2005, $248 billion in 2006, $162 billion in 2007, and $410 billion in 2008.

The current administration would kill to have such small numbers. President Barack Obama is unveiling his budget this week, and, in addition to the inherited Bush deficit, he’s adding his own spending at an astonishing pace, projecting annual deficits well beyond $1 trillion in the near future, and, in the rosiest possible scenario, a $533 billion deficit in 2013, the last year of Obama’s first term.

And what about the national debt? It increased from $5 trillion to $10 trillion in the Bush years, leading to dramatically higher interest costs. “We pay in interest four times more than we spend on education and four times what it will cost to cover 10 million children with health insurance for five years,” Pelosi said in 2007. “That’s fiscal irresponsibility.”

Now, under Obama, the national debt — and the interest payments — will increase at a far faster rate than during the Bush years.

“We thought the Bush deficits were big at the time,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, told me this week as he prepared to attend Obama’s Fiscal Responsibility Summit. “But this is going to make the previous administration look like rank amateurs. We could be adding multiple trillions to the national debt in the first year.”

At some point last week, the sheer velocity of Obama’s spending proposals began to overwhelm even experienced Washington hands. In the span of four days, we saw the signing of the $787 billion stimulus bill, the rollout of a $275 billion housing proposal, discussion of Congress’s remaining appropriations bills (about $400 billion) and word of a vaguely-defined financial stabilization plan that could ultimately cost $2 trillion. When representatives of GM and Chrysler said they might need $21 billion more to survive, it seemed like small beer.

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As Rahm Emmanuel said, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.”



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