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Bush, Obama, and the Deficit Monster

December 18, 2009

Is Obama mortgaging our children’s future? A recent report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities suggests that Obama largely inherited today’s huge deficits from Bush. So not exactly.

Apart from health care, the stimulus package has been Obama’s most significant policy initiative. The CBPP report says that ARRA will raise the federal deficit by $1 trillion over the next decade. Contrast that figure with Bush’s contribution to the deficit:

Just two policies dating from the Bush Administration — tax cuts and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — accounted for over $500 billion of the deficit in 2009 and $7.1 trillion in 2009 through 2019, including the associated debt-service costs. These impacts easily dwarf the stimulus and financial rescues. Furthermore, unlike those temporary costs, these inherited policies (especially the tax cuts) do not fade away as the economy recovers.

Few conservatives would challenge the wisdom of Bush tax cuts in 2001 and 2003, or the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Significantly, however, Bush’s signature policies will cost the United States seven times as much as much as the stimulus package. What matters to conservatives, then, is — at bottom — not deficits, but ideology. Hence, it was both necessary and right that the United States spend $12 billion per month in Iraq — spending was beside the point. Not so when Bush proposed a $1.2 trillion prescription drug plan: for most prominent conservatives, spending on entitlements is necessarily wasteful and excessive.

In the Bride of Frankenstein movie, the monster is, at one point, told by a blind man that it is bad to be alone. The monster agrees, telling the man “alone, bad…friend, good.” Conservative thinking follows a similar formula: when deciding whether to ignore deficits or launch into a fit of hysteria, the conservative must always remember, “social programs, bad…war, good.”

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