I’ve been looking back to the Bush Administration’s first budget (for fiscal year 2002) and sighing (heavily). In the “Blueprint for New Beginnings” budget document issued February 2001, this was what the new president had to say about those “new beginnings”:
For too long, politics in Washington has been divided between those who wanted big Government without regard to cost and those who wanted small Government without regard to need. Too often the result has been too few needs met at too high a cost. This budget offers a new approach—a different approach for an era that expects a Federal Government that is both active to promote opportunity and limited to preserve freedom.
Our new approach is compassionate…
This new approach is also responsible:
It will retire nearly $1 trillion in debt over the next four years. This will be the largest debt reduction ever achieved by any nation at any time. It achieves the maximum amount of debt reduction possible without payment of wasteful premiums. It will reduce the indebtedness of the United States, relative to our national income, to the lowest level since early in the 20th Century and to the lowest level of any of the largest industrial economies…
–George W. Bush, February 28, 2001
And what has actually happened over the past eight years? Here are some of my calculations on the “Bush fiscal legacy” (based on the most recent CBO and Treasury data):
- Outlook for the federal budget in January 2001 for fiscal years 2002 through 2011: a ten-year surplus of $5.6 trillion.
- Latest (January 2009) realized and projected deficits over the same period (FY2002-11): a ten-year deficit of $4.5 trillion (or $4.9 trillion under a policy-extended scenario)–a deterioration of more than $10 trillion.
- Federal debt held by the public has increased from $3.388 trillion in January 2001, to $4.428 trillion in January 2005 (end of Bush’s first term), to $6.289 trillion in January 2009 (as of 1/13)–an increase of $2.901 trillion.
- Gross federal debt (including that owed to the federal trust funds) has increased from $5.716 trillion in January 2001, to $7.628 trillion in January 2005, to $10.555 trillion in January 2009 (as of 1/13)–an increase of $4.839 trillion.
In other words, instead of retiring nearly a trillion in debt over the first term back when we legitimately had the economic opportunity to do so, the fiscal legacy of the Bush Administration will be that they have left us with a debt that has nearly doubled over two terms, now that economic circumstances leave us with no present option but to keep adding to it.