Who Really Caused The Deficit? (CHART)
SAHIL KAPUR MAY 15, 2012, 5:17 AM 4775
This week Republicans will attempt to move the national political conversation back to a familiar theme with a series of attacks on President Obama over the national debt. The GOP released a web video Monday bashing his “broken promises” on the deficit and previewed a major speech Tuesday by likely presidential nominee Mitt Romney on the issue.
Divorced from context, the numbers are uncomfortable for the President and are ready-made for pointed partisan attacks. Under Obama’s watch the national debt has risen from roughly $10 trillion to $15 trillion, a record high. But to what extent are his decisions while in office to blame? The answer: very little. The vast bulk of the debt is the result of policies enacted during the Bush administration coupled with automatic increases in federal spending and decreases in tax revenue triggered by the economic downturn.
Those are economic facts of life known to experts but that often gets lost in the political debate (and which Obama’s opponents are willing to obscure). So with the GOP’s push to return the deficit to the center of the political conversation, here’s quick reminder of the basic facts that you may have forgotten.
As the chart below reveals, the main drivers of projected deficits over the next decade are the wars of the oughts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Bush tax cuts and the so-called “automatic stabilizers” — unemployment insurance spending, lower tax burdens — built into existing policy to combat economic downturns. Recovery measures by Bush and Obama caused a short-term spike in deficits but have mostly phased out and thus represent only modest fractions of the national debt.