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Siggins and Weinberger: On Spending, Bush Was Bad, Obama Is Worse

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) recently decided — for the third year in a row — not to pass a budget, meaning uncontrolled spending can continue apace.

Federal spending will have gone up by nearly 60 percent in 2010 dollars from 2000 to estimated 2013 spending. Yet to exclusively blame one political party smacks of intellectual dishonesty because both have failed in the past decade to balance the budget.

Additionally, Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush had to deal with budgetary fallout from their predecessors and other factors for which they were not responsible. Let’s review some history.

During Bush’s tenure from 2001 through 2009, liberals cite the doubling of the national debt as proof of his profligacy. The debt did indeed double, but not all of it can be attributed to Bush policies. For example, Bush’s first year in office was plagued by an inherited recession and 9/11, which, coupled with other technical and economic revisions, Heritage Foundation’s Brian Riedl calculated cost $3.8 trillion through 2011. Surely he can’t be held responsible for those unforeseen events.

Yet Bush can and should be held accountable for his policies. According to Riedl, the prescription drug bill passed in 2006 is projected to add nearly $400 billion in its first decade. The 2001 and 2003 tax cuts cost $1.7 trillion during the past 10 years. Add on the cost of the war on terror, which sums to about $1.3 trillion since its inception, the 2008 stimulus and the Troubled Asset Relief Program, and there is plenty of fiscal responsibility for the former president.

2009 is where things get sticky because Bush passed a budget that lasted through Obama’s assumption of the presidency. Disentangling who takes responsibility for what is difficult. Factcheck.org’s attempt to do so concluded that Bush deserves most of the culpability for the staggering deficit: “The truth is that the nearly 18 percent spike in spending in fiscal 2009 — for which the president [Obama] is sometimes blamed entirely — was mostly due to appropriations and policies that were already in place when Obama took office.”

Yet Factcheck.org maintains that about 14.5 percent of the 2009 deficit is attributable to Obama, which is no small contribution. Factcheck.org also notes that “spending under Obama remains at a level that is quite high by historical standards. Measured as a percentage of the nation’s economic production, it reached the highest level since World War II in fiscal 2009 and has declined only slightly since.”

This means that while Obama escapes much of the blame for 2009, he doubled down and swelled spending, maintaining trillion-dollar deficits ever since. Indeed, he won enactment of an $860 billion stimulus bill and increased some of the spending in a $410 billion omnibus bill that year, and of course in 2010 signed the health care law, which is projected to massively skyrocket spending in years to come. In fact, “costs will total nearly $1.3 trillion through the year 2022,” Factcheck.org writes.

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