Naturally saying that neither party is particularly credible on the deficit right now has drawn a lot of angry people out of the woodwork to say that I am ignoring the clear evidence that Democrats/Republicans are better. Well, I've looked at the evidence, and to me it's not that clear.
Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1990
- Reduced spending by $281 billion and increased revenues by $255 billion over FY1991-FY1995.
- This act included the Budget Enforcement Act of 1990, which included discretionary spending caps and PAYGO controls on direct spending and revenue.
- Reduced spending by $145 billion and increased revenues by $241 billion over FY1994-FY1998.
- This bill included the Clinton-era top rates on income taxes of 39.6 percent and 36 percent.
Bush's actions on the deficit helped cost him the election. I'd call him a Hero of Deficit Reduction, First Class--without him, Clinton's surpluses would never have been possible.
Looking at our small group of post-1980 presidents, we have two GOP presidents who increased the deficit, one GOP president who took major steps to close it, one Democratic president who took steps to close it. The "Dems good, GOP bad" has another problem, of course: Barack Obama., the Democratic president who has set spending records as revenue collapsed. Maybe he's planning a secret surprise where he balances the deficit in 2014. But there's not really all that much evidence for this proposition, beyond the fond hopes of those making it.
So while, yes, we have one more "bad Republican" than "bad Democrat", that's out of a group of five--not particularly compelling evidence.
Of course, you can start introducing "special circumstances" for Obama--but in that case, you also have to allow them for Bush II, who had the deficit down to a pretty trivial 1% of GDP before the crisis hit, and you should probably dock Clinton for a stock market bubble and the enormous windfall of the cold war ending . . . and at that point we're way off what many Democrats seem to believe is a simple, obvious case that Democrats are better on the deficit, and into hours and hours of special pleading.
My personal guess is that the best combination for the deficit is a Democratic president and a GOP congress--the GOP won't spend, and the Democrat won't let them cut taxes. Probably the worst combo is a GOP president and a Democratic congress, since a fractious congress is easily bought off with new spending, allowing the president to get the tax policies he wants. Between all GOP and all Democrat, I'm less sure--the historical record of the most recent two instances was pretty dreadful.
But these are really just wild guesses, probably over-influenced by the fact that I began my adult life during the Clinton administration. And even if we had better data, there would always be the possibility that changes one or both parties would render it useless. Imagine trying to extrapolate Dubya from Eisenhower.