Thursday, February 19, 2009

"Born-Again Budget Conservatives"? You Betcha!

Earlier this month, Ron Paul chided fellow Republicans for behaving like "born-again budget conservatives." While Republicans blasted the stimulus package for increasing the national debt and burdening future generations, they failed to vote against Bush's extraordinary deficit- and debt-based spending during his eight years in office. Their support for his policies led to a dramatic explosion in the public debt. Blogger Infidel753 has the scoop:
When Bush took office at the beginning of 2001, the national debt (accumulated over the previous 224 years of American history) was $5,727,800,000,000. By the time he left office eight years later, it had grown 86%, to $10,626,900,000,000. . . an increase of $4,899,100,000,000.

Here's an illustration of how much money $4,899,100,000,000 is: if you spent a million dollars per day, it would take you 13,422 years to spend that much. That's more time than has passed since the dawn of agriculture. It's more than twice as long as humans have had writing.

Here's another: if the Bush debt increase were converted into a stack of one-dollar bills, the stack would be 327,000 miles high. This is almost one and a half times the distance from Earth to the Moon.To put it yet another way, during Bush's Presidency the average American's share of the national debt rose from $19,093 to $35,423, an increase of $16,330.
Infidel goes on to discuss the recent addition to the debt caused by the stimulus, although I suppose tax revenue will fund costs for a portion of the legislation. Regardless, the statistics are very sobering.

This should lay to rest claims that suggest the stimulus is crippling future generations. Eight years ago, the national debt was almost 1/2 its present size (not counting the stimulus), and there was a budget surplus. Arguments that focus only on the present grossly distort this history. We can only improve the situation -- as I tell my liberal colleagues -- by not acting like hypocrites and by pursuing honest assessments, even when they hurt. I believe this is such a moment for conservatives who want the nation's leaders to do a better job. Don't fall for the partisan trap of blaming others and not looking inward.

I do not agree with all aspects of the stimulus package and have some pretty significant concerns about it. But this does not permit me to ignore the past eight years of tax cuts coupled with a dramatic increase in spending by the government. Those policies did far more to enlarge the government's deficit and debt ratios than the stimulus.

Note: You can view the level of the public debt for any given day or range of days on the Bureau of the Public Debt website. This is a bureau within the Treasury Department. Here's the debt page: National Debt.


Decidere said...

And those tax cuts that were supposed to stimulate the economy but instead stimulated the debt - why exactly are we going down that road again? Republicans might as well be Hare Krishnas banging drums singing "Hare Tax Cut, Hare Tax Cut, Rama Rama, Rama Tax Cut". Faith based economics, they simply can't look a government balance sheet in the eye and calculate all the damage they've done. Instead, it's like a loser in Vegas, double down, triple down, gonna walk out of this casino a winner, just one more hand. Laugh at Bush, but he was an actual drunk. All these enablers of Bush are the real lunatics.

Infidel753 said...

Thanks for the citation! It is really incredible, the numbers one has to get one's mind around to grasp what is going on at those levels. There used to be a saying attributed to some apocryphal Congressman: "A billion dollars here and a billion dollars there, and pretty soon you're talking real money!" Not any more. Today you'd have to say "A hundred billion....."

My own objections to the stimulus package stem mostly from the fact that I think a lot of it won't do much good -- too much of the spending won't even hit the economy until a year or two from now. But if there's a case to be made that it's excessive spending, the Republicans have lost any credibility they might have had to make that case.

Decidere -- I'm beginning to think reality-denial is becoming the defining trait of conservatism. They believe whatever is convenient, no matter how strong the evidence to the contrary. Tax cuts increase revenues. Gay marriage will destroy straight marriage. Allowing women to choose abortion is somehow victimizing them. If Bush doubled the national debt, there's some convoluted way of fiddling the numbers so that it's not real or doesn't count. If the financial sector crashes after eight years of Republican rule, it was Clinton's fault. If Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction, suddenly that wasn't the real reason for invading. If evolution contradicts the Bible, then evolution is a lie and almost all the world's anthropologists, paleontologists, etc. are either deceived or part of some vast conspiracy. If global warming can't be solved purely by free-market means, then it doesn't exist either and most of the world's climate scientists are similarly wrong. Abstinence-only sex education is moral, therefore it has to work, and never mind what the actual data say. Up is down, black is white, and we have always been at war with Eurasia. Facts and evidence mean nothing; all that matters is whether the conclusion fits the ideology.

Legal-Right said...

Bush's inability to control government spending and reduce the national debt is a major problem. However, his mistakes should not create a gloss on history that makes it okay for future presidents to continue adding to the debt.

We need a plan to pay down this debt, and the best place to start is the minimizing of federal government, especially as it interferes with State sovereignty.

If the fed were to focus its annual budget on the powers actually delegated to it by the Constitution, we could start paying our way out of this mess. Until the fed learns its proper place, we will simply continue to build debt and lose our status on the international stage.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

As I said, I do not agree with all aspects of the stimulus. But just as I have condemned (to the cheers of many conservatives) liberal hypocrisy concerning Obama's flip-flops and replication of some of Bush's most despised policies, it is important to highlight conservative hypocrisy on fiscal policy. My goal is to weed out partisanship and to really have a debate about where to go. I just don't believe that people who criticize things in others that they embrace in themselves have a true interest in facilitating change. This group includes liberals who suddenly become silent or defensive when Obama continues "rendition" and conservatives who legitimated Bush's excessive spending but now act like the stimulus is the end of the world.

As for constitutional values, Congress has the power to tax, borrow and spend.

Infidel753 said...

Legal-Right: We need a plan to pay down this debt

The experience of the last 16 years suggests that the most effective plan for that purpose would be (a) figure out some way to get Bill Clinton back into office, and (b) keep Republicans away from the levers of power.

Legal-Right said...

Infidel: (a) figure out some way to get Bill Clinton back into office, and (b) keep Republicans away from the levers of power.

As much as I would like to jump down your throat and say, "No, Republicans can do better." (a gut reaction tends to get most conservatives in trouble)

I can't. I'm pretty young and extremely new to identifying and defining my own political ideals. Law school seems to have given me the political bug, but I don't have enough information about our recent presidents to either agree or disagree with you. If you have links to support your statement, it would give me a start.

Hutchinson: I find your blog a refreshing liberal voice. It has been quite a chore to find a liberal who is willing to discuss issues with a level and reasonable mind. I have no problem with saying that Republicans have moved away from their roots and to a great extent have become hypocritical (though, I really hate that word, btw).

However, Conservatives are not on the same path as republicans. Bush wasn't a Conservative. He was a big government, big spending republican. A republican that has lost touch with his conservative values. Conservatives may support some of Bush's spending, but I believe they would do so on the basis of National Defense, which is one of the few areas Conservatives step away from the small government bit. I'm not sure that can be classified as hypocritical, but that is my current opinion. (Which is the reason I hate that word. As I learn, my opinions change, but when my opinions change, others tend to jump on me as a hypocrite. It's become cliche)

As for constitutional values, Congress has the power to tax, borrow and spend.

I can't disagree with that. My problem is where and how they are spending the money. And if I'm not mistaken, Congress is supposed to maintain a balanced budget.

I was in no way saying congress can't do these things, just that they need to do these things responsibly and with deference to the limitations the Constitution places on those powers.

Infidel753 said...

Mr. Right (or can I just call you Legal?) -- I think the experience of the last 16 years is pretty common knowledge:

1993-2000: Bill Clinton administration, federal deficits (inherited from previous Republicans) turned into surpluses by end of second term, net gain of 37 million jobs during the eight-year period.

2001-2008: GW Bush administration with (mostly) Republican control of Congress, surpluses turned back into (colossal) deficits, national debt almost doubles (increase of 86%), mediocre job growth during first term (don't know job figures for second term offhand), financial meltdown.

I want the Clinton era back.

Bonus point: One big developed country has escaped most of the effects of the financial meltdown. Know which one? It's Canada -- the one major Western country which didn't deregulate its financial sector (source).

The prosecution rests. :-)

Jason Papanikolas said...

I have to agree with Legal-Right. Too many Democrats and liberals confuse Republicans and conservatives, and vice versa. It is possible to be a Republican without being a conservative.

Conservatives, like Sen. Coburn, Sen. DeMint, and Congressman Cantor, have been consistent in opposition to deficit spending. The same cannot be said of the rest of the Republican Party or George W. Bush. Conservatives, like myself, supported Bush on the war (the intelligence spoke for itself, even if it was wrong, but that's another story). We were vehemently opposed the prescription drug bill, for instance.

Also, I think its disingenuous to only focus on the public debt which stands at almost $11 trillion. Our real national debt is closer to $60 trillion and Republicans have had nothing to do with that. Okay, we added a trillion with Medicare Part D, but we can't be blamed for Social Security or the rest of Medicare. These were programs enacted by Democratic Presidents. It was also a Democratic President (LBJ) who decided to split these programs off of the federal budget in order to hide their long-term insolvency.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Legal Right --

The constitution does not mandate a balanced budget, nor does any federal legislation. Gramm-Rudman-Hollings did so, but it was repealed. Unless a balanced budget requirement comes as a constitutional provision, it would be toothless, because each Congress could simply repeal or limit it by subsequent legislation.

I understand that Republicans and conservatives are not synonymous; one could say the same of liberals and Democrats. But what is readily apparent to me, however, is that many "conservatives" or even just "Republicans" now protest the stimulus as fiscally unsound but did not make the same complaints regarding Bush. Perhaps some "conservatives" were consistent, but that's not the entire lot. Liberals are not the only ideological people who place partisanship over values. Bush won on the backs of conservatives. Perhaps he deviated from conservative values, but this does not make him a "liberal." It just makes him a wayward conservative Republican.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Jason said: "[W]e can't be blamed for Social Security or the rest of Medicare. These were programs enacted by Democratic Presidents."

First - My post was not challenging PRESIDENT Bush, but Republicans in Congress who failed to oppose his reckless expenditures (but are now challenging Obama). The vast majority of Democrats did not vote for the deficit-enhancing tax cuts.

Also - with respect to Social Security, a Democratic president certainly sponsored it, but a majority of Republicans voted for it (as did Democrats). This is not true of the Bush tax cuts.

On Medicare, a majority of Republicans voted for it in the Senate, but a slight majority (just 4 votes) of House Republicans voted against it. This is not forceful opposition.

My general point did not oppose governmental spending or even deficit spending. Instead, if deficits are such an evil policy, as many Republicans in Congress (and elsewhere) have stated, then they should have used their power to prevent the explosion of debt and deficits during the Bush administation.

PS: Do conservatives/Repubicans refuse health care and social security benefits?

Legal-Right said...

Hutchinson said: PS: Do conservatives/Repubicans refuse health care and social security benefits?

If I had an option about paying into such programs, then I would refuse to receive said benefits. As long as I am forced to pay for such programs, I should received some benefit. However, if Congress were willing to state a cut off date and end these programs, I would not argue if I was just on the edge of the losing generation. It would be my honor.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Legal Right - you have a good point.

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