Greatest Hits: Responsibility For The National Debt Revisited

Please note: The following article was originally posted in July of 2011. While its numbers are certainly dated the principles they illustrate are not. The national debt has again arisen as an issue in the 2016 campaign. The Republicans falsely try to portray it as total mismanagement by President Obama aided by Hillary Clinton.   In reality it illustrates that a combination of tax cuts and faulty decisions by the George W. Bush administration have inflated the debt more than the collective actions of all his predecessors and President Obama combined.

Republicans accuse Democrats of falsely blaming today’s economic woes on George W. Bush. Spurred by my own curiosity and multiple reader requests, I did some number crunching and the claim is substantially correct.

First off let’s clear up the difference between the deficit and the national debt. The deficit has to do with a lone fiscal year. If the government spends more than it takes in, it runs a deficit. If it takes in more than it spends, it has a surplus – that hasn’t happened since Bill Clinton left the White House. The national debt is the cumulative total of all fiscal years.

Politicians love to tell less than complete truths, (I’m being kind), when it comes to numbers because they are confusing and in the case of our federal government too big for most of us to really get a handle on. We can relate to thousands and millions, but billions and trillions are another thing.

Ten days after President Obama took office, (January 30, 2009) the national debt stood at $10.56731 trillion. As of June 30, 2011 it was $14.293975 trillion, an increase of $3.726665 trillion or 35.3%. Several situations inherited from the Bush administration made spending necessary and/or pre-determined. Listed below are my conservative projections:

Bush Tax Cuts                                      $794.88 billion

Iraq                                                      $348.00 billion

Afghanistan                                           $220.40 billion

Stimulus                                                $787.00 billion

TARP                                                  $300.00 billion

Additional Interest                                $ 94.25 billion

TOTAL                                                $2.54453 trillion

The Bush Tax Cuts were inherited and preserving them was the Republican’s main objective in the FY 2011 final budget battle. Iraq and Afghanistan are inherited problems that most reasonable people will now admit were mistakes in the first place. The stimulus was necessary because the economy that Obama inherited was in near freefall. The TARP was a Bush administration program – a fact Republicans like to ignore and try to lump it in with the stimulus and blame it on Obama. This number represents the money actually dispersed on Obama’s watch. The TARP, Iraq and Afghanistan numbers are all conservative and the actual costs are probably higher – not to say anything of the legacy costs of Iraq and Afghanistan. Since all this money had to be borrowed it is fair to assign an interest cost to it.

So over 68% of the increase in the deficit under the Obama administration can be directly attributed to the Bush administration’s follies. That leaves the Obama administration with responsibility for a national debt increase of $1.182135 trillion at the most.

Compare that with the George W. Bush administration. Ten days after his inauguration the national debt stood at $5.716071 trillion. During his administration the debt increased by 84.9% or $4.851239 trillion. What was his excuse, the surplus Bill Clinton left him? If you add Bush’s own increase to the part of Obama’s increase that is easily attributable to him he increased the national debt by $7.395769 trillion or over 125%.

Whether or not George W. Bush was the worst President of all time is something that history will ultimately decide. The fact that he accounted for the majority of the increase in the national debt thus far during the Obama administration is indisputable.

NOTE: Total debt figures are from The Treasury Department’s Bureau of the Public Debt. Interest numbers are based upon the assumption of an average of $1.2 trillion being financed at 3.25%. The TARP number is for cash released post January 20, 2009. The Afghanistan and Iraq numbers are based on CBO projections that the costs were $6.7 billion and $12 billion per month. The Bush Tax Cuts number was based on an August 2010 CBO number. All numbers other than stimulus and TARP, (which are numbers certain), are based on 29 months of “cost”.

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