The Truth About the President and the Deficit

By Bob Cesca: Arguably the biggest lie coming from the Republicans and the Romney campaign is that President Obama is a tax and spend liberal who’s responsible for record deficits and a crushing national debt.

Not only is Mitt Romney telling his supporters that President Obama continues to spend out of control, but that the president is responsible for doubling the budget deficit since he took office. This is not a new attack. Republicans who blindly greenlit trillions in Bush-era spending have been engaged in this nonsense practically since the minute the president was inaugurated.

I like to do this from time to time, so consider this a one-stop source for debunking what the Republicans are claiming about the Obama administration’s fiscal record. Before I do, however, I’d like to note that Republicans often confuse the national debt with the federal budget deficit, not unlike the way they scramble the stimulus and the bailouts. They’re not interchangeable things. The federal budget deficit is the annual difference between what the government spends and what it collects in revenue. It’s often similar, higher or lower, than the previous fiscal year’s deficit. The debt is the total amount of money the United States owes to creditors, and this much larger figure accrues from year to year. A lot of people don’t know the difference, and I’ve even heard cable news people mix them up, too.

So let’s start from the beginning — prior to 2009. While’s it’s true that, in a general sense, the deficit and debt are higher than ever before, it has less to do with President Obama, and more to do with the previous administration’s careless spending, ridiculously large tax cuts for the super-rich coupled with the globally massive economic depression from which we’re still extricating ourselves.

The following chart, using Congressional Budget Office numbers, precisely illustrates the sources of the federal budget deficit.

One layer is directly the result of Obama administration policies. The rest aren’t. And the “economic downturn” began prior to the president’s inauguration, and, as time goes on, we’re learning that the recession was far worse than we were led to believe at the time making an escape and recovery even longer and more challenging than anticipated.

In terms of the debt, the strata are remarkably similar, even though the numbers are larger:

As you can see, much of the “record” deficit and debt had nothing to do with the Obama administration. But, Republicans will insist that the deficit is out of control and that happened on Obama’s watch beginning in 2009 and getting worse every year since then.

This is super-colossal lie.

Here’s Bob Beauprez, a former Republican congressman and current blogger for the popular conservative website Townhall.com lying to his readers:

The 2011 budget deficit for the federal government is $1.299 trillion according to numbers just released by the U.S. Treasury. That is the second highest deficit in history. […]

Obama will likely make it four in a row one year from now as his own budget shop is estimating a $1.1 trillion deficit for 2012.

The 2009 deficit still holds the record at $1.412 trillion. In 2010 the deficit reached $1.293. In just three years, more than $4 trillion of red ink has been added to the debt. The government’s fiscal year ends September 30.

Did you spot the lie? It’s 2009. Even though the president entered office in 2009, the fiscal year 2009 spending for October 2008 – September 2009 was requested by President Bush and worsened by his policies (see previous deficit chart). The Congressional Budget Office noted that President Obama inherited $1.2 trillion of the total $1.4 trillion deficit for 2009.

And even though it’s staring him in the face, Beauprez is also not saying that the president has reduced the deficit nearly every year. Again, by Beauprez’s own numbers, the president has cut the deficit every year except for one. Between 2009 and 2012, the president will have reduced the deficit by $312 billion. Put another way, the president has cut the deficit by nearly 25 percent — so far.

Much to my personal Keynesian chagrin, President Obama cut spending, cut the deficit and cut taxes. (I’d rather he spend more in the short term to stimulate more growth and then cut the deficit when things have stabilized, but yeah). In chart form:

A couple of months ago in Arizona, Mitt Romney attacked the president on this topic with a whopper lie: “He said he’d cut the deficit in half. He’s doubled it. He’s doubled it.”

Mitt Romney actually said that. Well, no, the president didn’t cut the deficit in half. And he hasn’t doubled it. Obviously. Romney lied again. Actually, the president is on course to erasing the entire deficit by 2017, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The 2017 budget deficit, which will reflect President Obama’s final spending requests (a similar dynamic to Bush’s last deficit of 2009), could end up being zero.

Conversely, the Tax Policy Center reported that the Romney tax plan would explode the deficit by nearly $3 trillion over ten years. And that doesn’t even take into consideration the reversal of the president’s deficit cutting policies like the Affordable Care Act, or another recession, or whatever Romney decides to do in Iran.

Don’t let the Republicans get away with their ignorant lies about the deficit and the debt. Feel free to steal the above charts or to repeat what I’ve written here.

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