In the Arena

All That Debt

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Andrew Sullivan is right on target about why the budget deficits–and national debt–are so high: it’s the Republicans, obviously.Indeed, there are only two presidents in the past 50 years who took the national debt seriously after it exploded when Lyndon Johnson refused to fund the Vietnam war–George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. The Clinton experience is particularly important: he raised taxes to address the deficit. The Republicans said it would throw the economy into recession. It didn’t.  Clinton’s 1993 economic plan threw the economy into…a massive expansion and budget surpluses that reduced the national debt significantly.  (I remember reading pieces at the turn of the 21st century about the consequences of eliminating the national debt.)

George W. Bush wiped out all that. His tax cuts, overwhelmingly for wealthy Americans were bad enough. Then he passed a major entitlement–prescription drugs for the elderly–without paying for it. That’s what created the hole we were in when President Obama, acting to ameliorate a major economic meltdown, widened the deficit with his stimulus package…which, by the way, deserves some credit for preventing us from going off an economic cliff last winter.

Furthermore, Obama has promised that the health care reform plan will be revenue neutral. It may cost $1 trillion over 10 years, but he will raise $1 trillion to pay for it. Of course, Republicans are blocking most of the pathways to raising the revenue…and Democrats are blocking one important revenue sour (eliminating the employer-provided health care deduction), which, ironically, is the surest

But make no mistake: If you believe the national debt is a big problem, don’t blame the Democrats. Without question, they have been far more responsible–and, dare I say, conservative–party when it comes to balanced budgets for the past 30 years.

Update: Several commenters have noted that the war in Iraq–a total waste of more than $1 Trillion and, even worse, tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of lives–had something to do with the Bush deficits. Quite true. My mistake of omission.