For eight years many liberals complained about the Bush deficit and praised the Clinton surplus. They had an excellent point, but overlooked many key factors. Bush created a Medicare drug entitlement which will cost an estimated $800 billion in its first decade. He increased federal education spending 58% faster than inflation. He was also the first President to spend 3% of GDP on federal anti-poverty programs. For some reason the left wing is no longer talking about the deficit.
The above graph does include spending on Iraq and Afghanistan during the Bush years. While Bush did fund the wars through emergency supplementals (not the regular budget process), that spending did not simply vanish. It is of course included in the numbers above.
The Bush deficit declined significantly until early September of 2008 when the global economic crisis began. Bush responded with TARP (the toxic asset recovery program). This was done because $550 billion was pulled out of our financial and investment systems in ONE hour on September 18, 2008. The situation was dire and there was no longer a firewall between the banks and the stock market. There was $40 trillion in outstanding Credit Default Swaps, and most of it turned out to be worthless. That’s more than the GDP of the entire United States for three years.
The Bush administration worked diligently to keep the American economy going. Many conservatives and libertarians were disappointed by TARP. They believed we should leave the economy alone and it would fix itself. The conservative magazine National Review did not agree and supported TARP as a necessary evil. The House Progressive Caucus was opposed but their prediction that it would fail, has not proven true.
TARP was necessary to save the economy from collapse. Letting the banks fail was not the right thing to do and it would have led to a Great Depression. TARP and all of the other government efforts in the fall of 2008 did unfreeze the credit markets. Every single credit indicator (LIBOR, TED spread, A2/P2 spread, intra-bank lending, etc) shows that the markets have significantly unfrozen. The major banks have now passed their stress tests, and they are able to raise capital through the public markets. The American economy survived without a depression. There was no wholesale meltdown of the U.S. banking system. The big banks did not fail.
The taxpayers could still lose $12 to $20 billion on the money given to AIG. That is disappointing, but it is big improvement from a few months ago. AIG received $182 billion from the Federal Reserve and the Treasury.
Many thought the taxpayers were going to get stuck for over $100 billion, but AIG has been rapidly selling assets and the loss will be far less than what was once believed. The real outrage is that AIG lost $98 billion in 2008 but that did not stop them from paying large bonuses after they received the balout money.
President Obama went well beyond TARP with his $787 stimulus in February of 2009. The Stimulus bill includes tax cuts but they are not the type that spur the economy. The economic model of the stimulus bill assumes every $1 of government spending increases the economy by $1.60. By that logic, debt-ridden, big-government countries like Italy, France and Germany should be wealthier than America. Not one House Republican voted for the final stimulus package, which is remarkable.
The moderates did not support it because it was too big, too porky, and hardly stimulative at all. It also wiped out many of Bill Clinton’s excellent welfare reform laws. We did see deficit reduction and economic growth in the late 1990’s.
Bill Clinton and a Republican Congress worked together. They agreed to restore a lower tax rate on capital gains and virtually eliminate capital gains taxes on owner-occupied housing. The galloping economy then reduced the deficit by a record level.
Another major factor was the “peace dividend” after the Cold War. Clinton however did not erase the debt. The national debt went up every single year. The Clinton surplus is also debatable. He took a vast amount of money out of Social Security in order to cover his budgets and give the appearance of reducing debt.