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Robbie Gennet Headshot

George W. Bush's Debt, Deficit and Legacy

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It is time to bring up George W. Bush in our conversation about the Debt and the deficit. Judging from their relative silence since transfer of power, Obama and Bush may have made some sort of deal to not speak ill of each other or even mention each others names. Think about it -- do you ever hear Obama reference Bush? Or vice versa? But it is high time to remind the American public of Bush's policies that caused so much of the debt we are debating and not shy away from calling out the Republicans currently in Congress who rubber-stamped Bush's policies a few years back but are now currently outraged at the debt they incurred. And there are many of them.

Perhaps it would bring Bush out of the woodwork to attack Obama, to which I say: bring it on! Bush's reemergence and more visible presence would be a huge reminder in itself, but the discussion of his policies would bring the most benefit to our national discussion. There are many people still (rightfully) angry that no one in the Bush cabinet paid any price for their actions, much like many of us are angry that no one from Wall Street has paid a price for the financial meltdown. But don't hear Obama mention Bush by name, usually using the generic "Republican administration" to reflect on the 8 years prior to his presidency. There is almost no effort in the national debate to talk about Republican-incurred Debt and deficit under Bush. Enough. Let's discuss George W. Bush and why we're dealing with such large numbers in the first place. Here's a few facts to begin with:

Bush's Republican administration increased the federal budget by 104 percent.
In his last term in office, Bush increased discretionary spending by 48.6 percent.

130 current members of congress voted to increase the debt limit under Bush.

President Bush promised to pay off the national debt in his first address to Congress in 2001: "At the end of those 10 years, we will have paid down all the debt that is available to retire. That is more debt repaid more quickly than has ever been repaid by any nation at any time in history."

What really happened: Debt held by the public increased from $3.5 trillion to nearly $6 trillion and gross federal debt rose from $5.6 trillion to nearly $10 trillion.

Two wars (and yes, Obama has continued to add to their initial costs), a Medicare prescription drug plan and multiple tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. ALL on the national credit card, making up the bulk of our issue with the debt and the deficit. And though it's Obama's to deal with and clean up, it was Bush's to start. So was TARP. And so was the housing bubble and Wall Street meltdown, which were already crashing when Bush left office. The housing problem is one of the biggest drags on our economy and though Wall Street has miraculously bounced back to business as usual, the housing market has stayed on the floor, like an anchor on our economy.

I do not envy the job Obama has to right this ship. It is messy, it is calamitous and it is against enemies far more powerful than perhaps ever before in history. But the alarming lack of responsibility for this debt and deficit caused by many of the same Republicans who are hammering against Obama means that the public has somehow forgotten their involvement. How easily they catch amnesia when it's so convenient politically. John Boehner CAUSED these huge problems, and yet he's being taken seriously as someone who will somehow make it all better? Let's not forget those who served faithfully under George W. Bush during the years of government expansion, huge spending and huge debt. Here's a few notable ones:

John Boehner (in Congress since 1990)
Eric Cantor (in Congress since 2001)
Mitch McConnell (in Congress since 1984)
John Kyl (in Congress since 1987)

Of course, not one of them speaks of their role in causing so much of our debt and deficit, and rarely do they invoke the man they served under through his entire presidency: George W. Bush. And let's not forget dear old Dick Cheney, who no doubt helped forge the policies and actions that sent America off the cliff. Anyone remember Donald Rumsfeld? I thought so.

The Republicans didn't have the answer to debt reduction for 8 years under Bush and they have not suddenly gotten wiser. In fact, they now have Tea Party pressure from the extreme Right that is making their job even harder and making them even less effective at what they profess (real fiscal responsibility) and better at what they actually do (dismantling our social safety net and serving the corporatocracy). It is time we shine a spotlight on the damaging policies of President Bush and the Republicans and rescue our country from its collective amnesia before Bush's true legacy -- nearly bankrupting the most powerful country in the world -- brings us to our knees. Remember: raising the debt ceiling is about paying for debts that have already been incurred. Funny how the Republicans who caused those debts are now so against paying for them. As Alec Baldwin wrote in his recent piece on Huffington Post, "It's time to suck it up and pay our bill." It's also time to discuss the large part of what we owe for George W. Bush's bill and remember those Republicans in Congress who are responsible for creating it.

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