Is it fair for Obama to write his own budget and blame Bush and the recession for much of its components? Generally, I think so, because Bush's prescription drug bill, wars and tax cuts continue to soak up so much red ink. But former Bush economist Keith Hennessey objects. His main theory is pretty simple: If you write the budget, you own the deficit. His main three points are (via James Kwak):
1. If you don't like the prescription drug bill, repeal it.
2. If you don't like the Middle East wars, end them.
3. If you don't like the Bush tax cuts, let them lapse.
This critique is straightforward without being serious. Obama has the power of the pen, but not of the purse, or of the polls. That is to say: He couldn't do these things by fiat, and even if he did, it would result in a popular backlash that would make the Tea Parties look like actual tea parties. Republicans have made it clear they vote won't for Medicare service cuts, so it's politically insane to push a partisan bill to repeal Medicare D. There is no congressional will to evacuate the Middle East -- and even if there were, you'd be acting against the advice of just about every general in the armed services. Raising taxes on the middle class with unemployment near 10 percent would be a gift to Republicans. The administration and the country face daunting problems, but these "solutions" would be ruinous, both politically and in practice.
Hennessey writes: "It is strange for a President to complain repeatedly about ten-year old policies and then not propose to change them." The strategy might be strange, but it doesn't mean Obama's wrong on the merits. The Bush year policies -- the tax cuts, wars and Medicare drug bill -- added $700 billion to the deficit in 2009. The recession added about $500 billion. The stimulus package added a little under $200 billion.
There are two questions here: (1) should Obama keep blaming Bush for the deficit, and (2) is Obama responsible for the $1.6 trillion figure? You can argue in good faith that No is the answer to both questions.
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