Friday, June 11, 2010

The inconvenient truth

From a good editorial in our local newspaper:

In January 2001, as the Bush presidency began, with Republicans controlling Congress as they would for most of Mr. Bush's two terms, the national debt was roughly $5.7 trillion. The budget was running a surplus, though most economists considered it temporary. Over the next three years, Mr. Bush and the GOP did three things - by choice, and with Democratic help - that conspired to push the debt to about $10 trillion by the end of Mr. Bush's second term.

First came the tax cuts of 2001, based on Mr. Bush's premise that, given the surplus, the government had to "give people their money back" rather than pay down the debt. A study by the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution concluded that when the cuts expire this year, they will have cost the government $2.34 trillion. Sixty-one percent of the benefits went to the wealthiest 20 percent of U.S. households.

Next came the October 2002 vote in Congress that authorized Mr. Bush to invade Iraq. The most important cost has been 4,402 American lives and the lives of at least 100,000 Iraqis, but the mistaken war also has cost the treasury $1 trillion and counting. As late as 2006, Mr. Bush and the Republicans still were paying for the war on an emergency basis, fudging the impact on the deficit as the debt kept rising.

Finally, in December 2003 Congress passed and President Bush signed the Medicare Part D prescription drug bill. Like the tax cuts and the Iraq War, it was not paid for. Former Comptroller General David Walker, the nation's top accountant, called it "the most fiscally irresponsible piece of legislation since the 1960s." Packed with subsidies for insurers and drug companies, the bill's cost over 75 years was pegged at more than Social Security.

The bottom line?

The country can't move ahead from here without understanding how we got here. It wasn't just Democrats or Republicans or Wall Street or the government or consumers. It was all of us. To believe anything else diminishes the country.

As for my Tea Party friends -- I share their concern for out-of-control spending and debt. But I'd be more impressed with their vocal fiscal conservatism if it hadn't suddenly appeared on January 20, 2009.

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