What drives the debt

Updated
 
What drives the debt
What drives the debt
Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

With the White House budget poised to be released, we’re likely to see a reprise of a familiar Washington fight: the president and his team will focus on short-term economic gains, delaying deficit-reduction efforts, while Republican policymakers will demand the opposite.

As this new round of the debate gets underway in earnest, reader F.B. flagged an interesting exchange from a White House press briefing last week, with reporters pressing Jay Carney on the GOP’s deficit concerns.

Q: And your opinion on the CBO report yesterday that unemployment would likely be above 9 percent by the election, and also that the deficit again will be over $1 trillion this year, making President Obama the only President to have three years of trillion-plus deficits. How does the President defend that?

CARNEY: Well, made possible in part by the trillion-dollar deficit he inherited from his predecessor, but the –

Q: But he’s been in office three years.

CARNEY: Oh, no question, and he came into office with the worst recession since the Great Depression, a catastrophic decline in economic growth and employment, and took measures to reverse that catastrophic situation, and measures that have been successful. I think – I don’t have the graph now, but I saw an interesting graph lately about what policies contributed to the deficit that we have now.

Mr. Carney, you’re in luck. I know of just such a graph.

Last summer, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities put together this image, showing the drivers of the national debt over the course of two decades, based largely on CBO estimates.

In case it’s not obvious, that orange section shows the extent to which Bush tax cuts are responsible for the deficit and the debt.

It’s likely GOP officials will be unimpressed with the White House budget plan, in large part because it kicks the problem of budget shortfalls down the road a bit. But until these same Republicans are prepared to deal with the policies driving the debt, it will be hard to take their cries seriously.

A GOP House member said last year it’s “insane” to hold Bush-era policies responsible for current and future debts. But that’s the opposite of the truth – policies adopted during the Bush era carry lasting consequences and left a mess that will take a very long time to clean up.

Republicans may find these details inconvenient, but that doesn’t make them false.

What drives the debt

Updated