You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.
Skip Navigation

Responsibility, Without the "R"

Ezra Klein reads the Congressional Budget Office long-term fiscal outlook and draws from it an important lesson about who's been fiscally responsible--and who hasn't.

The major domestic initiatives of the Bush years -- the tax cuts and the Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit -- made the budget picture much, much worse. The Obama administration's health-care reform proposal has, by contrast, made the budget picture much better. (You could say that the stimulus wasn't paid for, but that was sort of the point of the thing. And if we want to put emergency measures into the mix, we also have all costs related to 9/11 and TARP accruing to Bush. And I've been nice and haven't mentioned Iraq so far. Oops.) In fact, there's no high-priced initiative from the Bush years that improved the budget situation, or was even paid for.

Ezra suggests Washington hasn't yet woken up this fact--that, after watching Bush destroy the government's fiscal balance sheet, it can't quite get its head around the fact that this president, and this administration, might act less recklessly. I suspect he's right. But the mentality is even more perverse than it seems at first blush.

Remember the president that came before Bush, Bill Clinton, also pursued fiscally responsible policies. By the time he left office, the budget was actually in surplus. Notice a pattern here? Democratic presidents take long-term fiscal balance seriously. Republican presidents don't.

To be fair, the pattern breaks down if you go back a few more years in history: Clinton's predecessor, George H.W. Bush, signed the 1990 budget deal, which was instrumental in reducing the deficits he'd inherited from the Reagan-era. But, as Jon Chait frequently notes, the conservatives who now dominate the GOP despise the 1990 budget deal. Such politics, and policies, have no place in the Republican Party today.