The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities issued this report this week, which claims that “President Obama Largely Inherited Today’s Huge Deficits.” The headline chart is shown above, which proves the point that President Bush’s deficit financed tax cuts and deficit-financed wars account for most of the projected deficits. But the chart also demonstrates CBPP’s generous definition of what “today” is in “today’s huge deficits”–and that’s apparently the ten-year budget window of 2010-19, I guess another version of how “the future is now.”
Pretty much everyone understands–even without the Obama Administration’s constant reminders–that President Obama inherited the debt left behind by President Bush’s fiscal irresponsibility and record deficits; in fact, President Obama inherited the cumulative fiscal legacy (cumulative deficits) of all past presidents. But President Obama didn’t “inherit” the projected deficits over the next ten years; those deficits are largely in President Obama’s control, as the chart shows. Sure, the economic conditions might be largely out of the Administration’s control, but the choice to deficit-finance the cost of the wars and to extend and continue to deficit-finance most of the tax cuts “formerly known as Bush tax cuts” are President Obama’s own–as President Obama laid out in his very own budget.
That’s why this passage in the CBPP report has it exactly right (emphasis added):
While President Obama inherited a bad fiscal legacy, that does not diminish his responsibility to propose policies to address our fiscal imbalance and put the weight of his office behind them. Although policymakers should not tighten fiscal policy in the near term while the economy remains fragile, they and the nation at large must come to grips with the nation’s deficit problem. But we should all recognize how we got where we are today.
…and why the concluding passage is way too easy on President Obama–too kind to the Administration in falling under their “policy-extended baseline is what matters” spell (emphasis added):
[W]e estimate that President Obama’s proposals would lead to deficits of about $10.2 trillion over the 2010-2019 period, which is about $750 billion below the [Bush-policy-extended] baseline [but at the same time is more than $3 trillion above current-law baseline deficits]. For various reasons, CBPP believes that estimate is conservative, but the conclusion is clear: the President’s budget would reduce deficits compared with a continuation of current policies.
If I had written the concluding passage of the CBPP paper, it would have instead read:
…the conclusion is clear: the President’s budget chooses to continue most of the Bush legacy of deficits and debt by choosing to continue the most costly of President Bush’s deficit-financed policies.
President Obama can’t change the past, but he can change the future–at least a lot more than he seems to be (yet) trying. It strikes me that blasting the irresponsibility of President Bush’s fiscal policies, and then praising President Obama for doing “a little better” than President Bush, isn’t the way to get President Obama to live up to his potential and his promise as an agent of “change.” So I’m not sure what CBPP hoped to accomplish in writing their piece–other than trying to comfort President Obama and tell him it’s “ok” for him to be running big budget deficits and behaving like a slightly-better version of President Bush.