Blame Congress For The Deficit

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You could be forgiven for not realizing America is a monarchy after listening to debates over which president wrecked the country's balance sheet.

The topic du jour is how much George W. Bush's fiscal policies contributed to the estimated $9 trillion federal deficit predicted for the next ten years. In the past several months right-wing critics of President Obama have also slammed him for profligate spending that will make serfs of the next generation.

In their rages, both sides have forgotten that America has a Congress.

The 535 men and women in the House and Senate have as much responsibility, corporally, than either Bush or Obama have for the budget deficit and national debt. Every president submits a proposed budget that Congress has the responsibility to consider, change, and vote into law--or not. (Not to mention a great deal of members have been in office longer than Bush and Obama could be combined.) Each member can affect the budget's bottom line by adding amendments, voting in committee, or on the chamber floors. In other words, Congress is consequential in deciding how much the country will spend annually. It is not the British Parliament before the Glorious Revolution, even though it sometimes acts like it or is portrayed as such.

It's been many years since a president vetoed his own budget instead of signing Congress's version of it, even if it were more expensive than originally proposed. Remember, Congress can override a veto, giving it the final say in how much the federal government may spend.

Too many people personalize the entirety of national politics and focus only on the president. You could go several column inches or minutes without hearing a mention of Congress during a tirade against Bush or Obama on spending. You would be missing out.

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Justin Miller was an associate editor at The Atlantic from 2009 to 2011. He is now the homepage editor at New York magazine. More

Justin Miller was a associate editor at The Atlantic. Previously he was an assistant editor at RealClearPolitics, a political reporter in Ohio, and a freelance journalist.
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