A few days ago the Congressional Budget Office released a short analysis explaining why the $5.6 trillion surplus they projected for the decade following 2001 instead turned into a $6.1 trillion deficit. Bruce Bartlett summarizes:
Putting all the numbers in the C.B.O. report together, we see that continuation of tax and budget policies and economic conditions in place at the end of the Clinton administration would have led to a cumulative budget surplus of $5.6 trillion through 2011 — enough to pay off the $5.6 trillion national debt at the end of 2000.
Tax cuts and slower-than-expected growth reduced revenues by $6.1 trillion and spending was $5.6 trillion higher, a turnaround of $11.7 trillion. Of this total, the C.B.O. attributes 72 percent to legislated tax cuts and spending increases, 27 percent to economic and technical factors. Of the latter, 56 percent occurred from 2009 to 2011.
Even if we absolve George W. Bush of responsibility for those "economic and technical factors" — mainly the Great Recession — his policies are still responsible for a turnaround of about $8.4 trillion in the deficit projections. In other words, if we had merely hung onto the policies of the Clinton administration, paid for things like Medicare Part D, and avoided the disastrous war in Iraq, we would have entered the Great Recession with one of the lowest debt levels in the advanced world. That in turn would probably have kept the housing bubble a bit smaller than it was, making the Great Recession a little less catastrophic, and would have given us more headroom for fiscal stimulus in 2008 and 2009, which also would have reduced both the length and depth of the recession.
But none of that happened thanks to Republican economic policies. This year, they swear they've learned their lesson and will never do this again. Do you believe them?