Tuesday, December 29, 2009

How bad was Bush's spending record?
Mike Rappaport

Pretty bad, but not as bad as I had thought.  If one excludes both defense spending and interest on the debt, then Bush is not in the worst group -- Eisenhower, JFK, LBJ and Nixon.  Instead, he is in the middle group of Ford and Bush I.  The best president is, not surprising, Ronald Reagan, who held non-defense, non-interest spending to a real annual average growth of 1 percent.  Interestingly, the other two presidents who fall into the best group are Clinton and Carter.  In the case of Clinton, I believe the lion's share of the credit belongs to Republican Congress, since Clinton certainly would have been happy to expand government spending with health care (although some of the credit does belong to Clinton).  Carter's case is more puzzling, since he governed with large Democratic congressional majorities.    

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Sure, take out two of the elements where Bush failed worst of all -- interest payments (Clinton started paying off the dept, Bush needed more debt for his pals to trade) and defense spending on a needless war -- and Bush just looks poor instead of horrendous.

Who woulda thunk it?

Bush's tax cuts for rich people cost around $1.8 trillion in revenue; add in interest costs, and you get some $2 trillion in debt.

The Iraq War cost circa $700 billion under Bush, and will cost much more before it is over.

And by the way, you seem to have forgotten that Clinton had a deficit hawk at Treasury.

Posted by: It's Bush's Deficit | Dec 29, 2009 4:27:47 PM

Carter turned down the thermostats, didn't he?

Posted by: dearieme | Dec 30, 2009 6:25:07 AM

Clinton gets much too much credit for "reducing the deficit." What he really did was overtax. Taxpayer funds that went to pay down 4% debt were unavailable for productive investment that could have yielded 4%, 8%, 20%, 100%. Calculate the future value of that payed-down debt, compounded at 8% annually rather than 4%, and you get some idea of the cost of Clinton's supposedly wise management of public finances.

"Deficit hawks" tend to be either corrupt or stupid. Corrupt if they use fear about deficits to rationalize increasing tax rates. Stupid if they fail to understand that increased wealth comes from increased productivity, that increased productivity comes largely from capital investment, and that investment capital is all too easily diverted to low-productivity uses by ill-considered government programs. There is nothing wrong with debt used to finance investments that return more than the cost of the debt. Bush's "tax cuts for rich people" generated wealth far in excess of the revenue lost to government. The problem was that Congress prevented Bush from cutting tax rates further, as he should have.

I will grant that Clinton looks highly competent in comparison to Obama, but that's not saying much.

Posted by: Jonathan | Dec 30, 2009 11:48:38 AM

"Bush's "tax cuts for rich people" generated wealth far in excess of the revenue lost to government."

Most of that generated wealth was just smoke and mirros and has been wiped out in the past year or two.

Posted by: Johnny | Dec 31, 2009 11:22:34 AM

Ah, smoke and mirros. I'm convinced.

Or did you mean this kind of Mirro: http://www.pressurecooker-outlet.com/mirro.htm

Posted by: Jonathan | Jan 1, 2010 4:17:19 AM

I think this graphs helps to demonstrate the Republican hypocrisy in regards to domestic spending. Every election, they made ridiculous claims about small government, cutting the fat, etc, when they consistently fail to do so, even when they are in power. I don't understand why rank and file republicans don't understand this, and keep giving more money to the republican parties.

Also, why exclude military spending? Include that, and the Reagan figure will jump higher than many of the others, certainly Clinton, Bush I, Carter.

Also Jonathan: how would that public money look after the recession?

Posted by: Tim Donahue | Jan 2, 2010 10:17:30 AM

Defense spending necessarily waxes and wanes with the threat. Interest payments wax and wane with interest rates, which are not within the direct and immediate control of a President. I think it makes a lot of sense to take a look at the comparisons that can be generated by excluding them. Other comparisons may shed useful light on the spending issue too.

Reagan's defense spending is an interesting case. I suppose one could argue that the threat was any not greater during the early 1980s than it had been during the 1970s (although it is important to remember that Carter's failure to deal with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the troubles in Iran were part of what swept him to power). But Reagan perceived that he could win the Cold War by increasing spending. Although many scoffed at this, the Soviets themselves did not. And he turned out to be right. Was it worth it? Would we be better off with a Soviet Union, a divided Germany and a communist Eastern Europe? You decide.

On another note: It's true that the GOP has failed to deliver on promises to make government small. I don't know if you've noticed, but in general they are not a high-quality bunch. But the alternative these days is Obama, who has promised to make it much, much larger. The GOP is looking better and better.

Posted by: Sock Puppet | Jan 4, 2010 2:04:50 PM

@Johnny: Bush's tax cuts were not for the wealthiest. In fact during Bush II the percentage of taxes paid by the wealthiest shot up. And the IRS also recorded the largest ever gross tax receipts in history. It was not "smoke and mirrors" but real money in the IRS's pocket.

@ It's Bush's Deficit: Bush's tax cuts did not cause the loss of 1.8T in revenue. Bush inherited a popped bubble and recession that started at the end of Clinton's term. That recession caused a large drop in collected tax revenues. His tac cuts spurred the economy and the IRS reported the largest ever absolute amount of tax receipts a few years later. These are facts.

He also inherited a military so run down they could hardly pay for gas to run their trucks and had old run down equipment (ask anyone in service at the time). Bush corrected that, and increased the military budget to fix the problems Clinton had caused by his "peace dividend" severe cutting of the military. That is the root cause of the deficits. The need to spend more to repair problems plus a recession that he inherited that killed tax receipts. 9/11 did not make things any better in terms of need to spend on Defense spending.

Posted by: Chad | Mar 22, 2010 11:11:58 PM

Yes, George Bush was a big spender. Yes, b.hussein obama will make him look like a penny grabbing true conservative. Our great, great grand children will not appreciate what we have done to their country.

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