Obama’s Budget Blame Game

The president blames his predecessor for his own fiscal profligacy.


Facing the brewing outrage about out of control spending, President Obama is doing what he usually does when he finds himself in trouble: He blames George Bush. He did this again in his State of the Union speech in which he repeatedly hinted that it is his predecessor who is responsible for the country's fiscal plight. As to his own role, there was not much he could do, since he took office with “a government deeply in debt.” Our current deficits are thus largely Bush's doing: “The problem is that's what we did for eight years. That's what helped us into this crisis. It's what helped lead to these deficits.”

But let's look at some facts. When Obama took office on January 20, 2009 the national debt was $10.6 trillion. By the time he delivered his State of the Union remarks last Wednesday, it stood at $12.3 trillion. As Ken Timmerman observes, this spectacular increase represents “the biggest expansion of government spending in U.S. history.”

To be fair, the expansion is partially attributable to Bush. This is largely due to the $700 billion TARP authorization which was passed toward the end of Bush's presidency, and part of which was spent during Obama's term.  But we must not forget that then-Senator Obama supported and voted for the measure. To now blame his predecessor for the cost of the policy he himself helped to implement is duplicitous at best.

There is every reason to believe that had Obama been in charge when the crisis erupted the national debt would have been even higher today. If anything, Obama thought the government was not spending enough. He sought to remedy this shortly after he took office with the $786 stimulus package. This was the largest spending measure in American history. The amount authorized in that single bill was more than one and a half amount the largest ever yearly deficit posted under Bush in 2008.

This is not to excuse Bush's spendthrift ways, but only to show the extent of Obama's disingenuousness. But apart from the cynicism of it, there is an even more fundamental question that needs be asked. Even if we accept the claim that our present over-spending is somehow Bush's fault, why has the president done nothing to address this problem?

During the campaign Obama cast himself as someone who would boldly tackle the great problems that afflict this country. Why, then, has he not tried to introduce some sanity into federal finances and budgeting? A year should given him plenty of time to at least make a start in the right direction. And yet the president has done anything to stop the spending craze. Quite to the contrary, he has inflamed it further by ratcheting up spending to unprecedented levels. And now when a shell-shocked nation recoils at his excesses, he tries to blame another. This is not how great leaders act.

It is truly ironic that even as he tries to make the case against Bush, the president unwittingly condemns himself. For if Bush was an ignominious spender, then Obama must be triply so. The highest deficit posted under Bush was $457 billion in 2008. In a budget document released on Monday, the White House estimates that the deficit for fiscal 2010 – the first fiscal year in which Obama is charge for the full duration – will reach $1.6 trillion. In light of these figures, for Obama to charge his predecessor with fiscal profligacy is absurd. His behavior brings to mind the proverbial man who keeps pointing out a speck in his neighbor's eye while failing to notice a plank in his own. This is by no means to suggest that Bush's $457 billion deficit is a speck, but only that the president's fiscal indignation is badly misplaced.

Even as he keeps blaming his predecessor, President Obama is creating a disastrous fiscal legacy for his successor. In a little publicized document released by the Office of Management and Budget in August of last year, the administration projected a rapid growth in spending during the rest of Obama's term. So much so that the national debt will exceed the critical level of 100 percent GDP in fiscal 2011. This will be the highest level since 1945 and the highest ever in peace time.

When the next president assumes office, he will inherit financial disorder of catastrophic proportions. He will be handed a bankrupt government and an un-repayable national debt swollen by this president's spending binge. But do not hold your breath waiting for President Obama to accept responsibility. After all, it's all Bush's fault.