Not a day, maybe not an hour, goes by without someone in Washington denouncing irresponsible spending and unfair tax cuts by George W. Bush and the Republican Party. To take just one example: Recently, a Florida Democratic representative, Corrine Brown, explained her vote against the debt ceiling agreement by citing "eight years of horribly reckless spending and excessive tax cuts for the rich under President Bush and the Republican Congress."
Some critics have trouble with even the most basic facts. George W. Bush was indeed president for eight years. But do Brown and her colleagues remember that Congress was fully controlled by Republicans just four of those eight years? The GOP ran the House from 2001 to 2007, Bush's first six years in office, while Republicans only controlled the Senate from 2003 to 2007. (In Bush's first three months, the Senate was divided 50-50 until the May 2001 defection of Republican Sen. James Jeffords gave Democrats control.)
As far as tax cuts are concerned, Bush did indeed cut taxes for the wealthy -- along with everybody else who paid income taxes. But does Brown remember that tax revenues actually increased in the years after the Bush tax cuts took effect?
Revenues fell in Bush's first two years because of a combination of the tech bust and the start of the tax cuts. But then things took off. After taking in $1.782 trillion in tax revenues in 2003, the government collected $1.88 trillion in 2004; $2.153 trillion in 2005; $2.406 trillion in 2006; and $2.567 trillion in 2007, according to figures compiled by the Office of Management and Budget. That's a 44 percent increase from 2003 to 2007. (Revenues slid downward a bit in 2008, and a lot in 2009, when the financial crisis sent the economy into a tailspin.) "Everybody talks about how much the Bush tax cuts 'cost,'" says one GOP strategist. "We're saying, no, they led to a huge increase in revenue."
And deficits shrank. After beginning with a Clinton-era surplus in 2001, the Bush administration ran up deficits of $158 billion in 2002; $378 billion in 2003; and $413 billion in 2004. Then, with revenues pouring in, the deficits began to fall: $318 billion in 2005; $248 billion in 2006; and $161 billion in 2007. That 2007 deficit, with the tax cuts in effect, was one-tenth of today's $1.6 trillion deficit.
Deficits went up in 2008 with the beginning of the economic downturn -- and, not coincidentally, with the first full year of a Democratic House and Senate.
Finally, there's the national debt. When Bush took office in January 2001, the debt was about $5.7 trillion, according to Treasury Department figures. When Bush was sworn in for his second term in January 2005, the debt stood at about $7.6 trillion. When Bush left office in January 2009, the debt was $10.6 trillion. He had increased the national debt almost $2 trillion in his first term and $3 trillion in his second, for a total increase of nearly $5 trillion over both terms. (Of that $3 trillion increase in Bush's second term, $2 trillion came under a Democratic Congress.)
The debt stood at $10.6 trillion when Barack Obama took office in January 2009. Now, it's about $14.4 trillion. The president has increased the national debt nearly $4 trillion in his first two and a half years in office. By the time Obama finishes his first term, he will have increased the national debt by somewhere in the $5 trillion-to-$6 trillion range -- more than Bush did in two terms.
None of this is to say that George W. Bush had a good record on spending. He didn't, and he's fair game for criticism. But is it honest to condemn reckless spending in "eight years of Republican rule" when Democrats controlled the Senate for four of those years and the House for two? Is it honest to talk about the "cost" of the Bush tax cuts when federal revenues increased significantly while they were in effect? And is it honest to refer to Bush's ballooning deficits when deficits actually trended down for much of his presidency -- at least before Democrats won control of Congress?
Of course Obama partisans would like to pin the president's troubles on Bush. But they should get their facts straight first.