Assigning Blame for the Budget Deficit

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Veronique de Rugy has a good post on the limits of blaming Bush for the deficits. Yes, Bush enacted a horrible prescription drug benefit and tax cuts that didn't improve matters.  But the net increase in interest on the Federal debt under Bush was dwarfed by the current and future projected deficits, and will naturally shrink further as inflation returns.  And the tax cuts expire this year.  The proponents of blaming every single bad thing that happens on one George W. Bush offer the wan defense that, after all, it would be hard to not extend the tax cuts.  But that argument applies equally well to Bush; it would have been hard not to enact the tax cuts in the first place, and politically disastrous not to do a Medicare prescription drug benefit, and idea that was essentially forced on him by Democrats eager to curry favor with seniors.

But the fact remains that George Bush enacted a bunch of tax cuts, and did nothing to implement the spending control those tax cuts demanded.  He shouldn't have done that, even if voters would have been, like, rilly rilly mad if he didn't give them free drugs.

So, too, at some point, Obama has to take responsibility.  Listening to his defenders reminds me of those people who sit around whining about how their Dad was really distant and critical . . . I mean, fine, you apparently had a rotten childhood, but Dad can't get come and get you off the couch and find you a girlfriend and a better job.  Girls and employers get really creeped out if they try.

Whatever George W. Bush did or did not do, he's no longer in office, and doesn't have the power to do a damn thing about the budget.  Obama is the one who is president with the really humongous deficits.  Deficits of the size Bush ran are basically sustainable indefinitely; deficits of the size that Obama is apparently planning to run, aren't.  If he doesn't change those plans, he will be the one who led the government into fiscal crisis, even if changing them would be [sob!] politically difficult.

I have a serious question for the people who are mounting this defense:  at what point in his presidency is Obama actually responsible for any bad thing that happens?  Two years?  Five?  Can we pick a date for when bad things that happen on Obama's are actually in some measure the responsibility of one Barack Obama, rather than his long gone predecessor?  And then stick with that date?  Conversely, can we agree that as long as the bad things that happen are really George Bush's fault, any good things that happen should probably be chalked up to his administration as well?

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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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