But more importantly, the deficit now is not what matters. Any Republicans who are using it as a political tool to bash Obama should be ashamed of themselves; whatever you think of the stimulus package, one year of massive borrowing is not going to kill us, and the impact on future generations will be small.
The graphic's equally arbitrary end date obscures the real worry: the years after the current crisis. By then, it will make about as much sense to blame them on Bush's fiscal policy, or Medicare Part D, as it would on FDR's fiscal policy, or Medicare Part A. Social Security and Medicare Parts A-C will be driving far more of Obama's deficits than anything Bush did.
Don't believe me? Iraq is now at $120 billion a year, and scheduled to decline. It seems churlish to blame Bush for Medicare Part D, given that the Democrats' main complaint was that it wasn't expensive enough, but let's go ahead and blame him anyway: $35 billion a year. The tax cuts sunset in 2010; after that, Obama has to affirmatively act to extend them. The structural deficit projected in 2010 was a little over $100 billion.
But what about all the debt he racked up? Net public debt rose less than 4% of GDP during Bush's presidency. Net interest (aka Cash Interest We Pay Bondholders) went from $223 billion in 2000 to $244 billion in 2008; adjusted for inflation, and as a percentage of GDP, it actually fell. If we are entitled to expect Bush to close the budget deficit with those kinds of numbers, then we ought to be able to expect it from Barack Obama. Bush's deficits are not holding him back.
But this is what we have been told to expect:
How is a $118 billion structural deficit, $35 billion in Medicare Part D, and a theoretical end to the Iraq presence forcing Barack Obama to spend nearly $1 trillion in 2018? How is it forcing him to spend roughly $650 trillion more than he takes in in 2012?
This is not Bush's fault. And you know what? Even if it were Bush's fault, who cares? It's like those people in their thirties who spend the whole decade in therapy and get into long weepy conversations over bottles of wine about how they can never have a healthy relationship because their father was so cold and distant, and their mother was a perfectionist harpy.
I mean, hey, it sounds like your parents were terrible. But this is not actually very useful information. Dad could get down on his hands and knees and admit that he was the most horrible father in the entire world, and beg for your forgiveness, and guess what? You're still lonely and balding and drinking way too much mid-priced Chardonnay. No matter what Dad did, he can't fix it. You have to be the one to call your girlfriend and say "I love you." If Dad does it, she'll just get all creeped out.
The problem with the budget deficit is not any particular program, or even any particular tax cuts. It is not that George Bush or Obama is a bad person who does bad things. The problem with the budget deficit is that, unlike the deficits George Bush ran, the deficits projected under Obama (and beyond) are actually large enough to potentially precipitate a fiscal crisis. If our interest rates suddenly spiked up, perhaps because lenders were worried about the size of our budget deficits, we'd find ourselves in the kind of nasty fiscal jam that regularly plagues third-world countries. The difference is, no one has enough money to bail us out.