Steve Chapman

But if there is anyone who has no grounds to fault the president for fiscal recklessness, it's Republicans. The Wall Street Journal, however, recently ran an editorial titled "Obama's Debt Boom," which said that when it comes to debt, Obama "is taking America to a place it has never been."

Maybe so, but he couldn't have done it without the GOP. Under Bush, the budget surplus -- yes, we once had a federal budget surplus -- vanished, giving way to repeated deficits running into the hundreds of billions.

Under Bush, the publicly held federal debt more than doubled. One reason Obama has run deficits is that he has to cover the interest payments for all the borrowing done before he took over.

Bush, it's worth noting, didn't launch his spending spree in his final fiscal year. He did it in his first. Between 2001 and 2008, federal spending rose by 31 percent, after adjustment for inflation, and went from 18.2 percent of GDP to 20.8 percent -- a 14 percent increase. Oh, and then there was the 2009 deluge of red ink, most of which came out Bush's hose.

Even those numbers fail to capture the full splendor of his fiscal explosion. Bush brought about the biggest new entitlement program since Lyndon Johnson's day, in the form of the Medicare prescription drug program.

It cost $67 billion last year, but that's nothing compared to the long-term impact -- which was to burden future taxpayers with $7 trillion in unfunded obligations. Obama has spent like there's no tomorrow, but even he has nothing to match that.

Yet both Obama and his Republican opponent will spend the next five months promising they will be stingy stewards of the public purse. You can believe that, if you were born yesterday.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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