On the National Debt

This post is in response to my cousin’s request for my comments on Mark Steyn’s article, “The Sun Also Sets.” I gladly accepted the challenge, because I need more challenges from my conservative friends and family. Before we begin, let’s meet Mark Steyn.

Mark Steyn left school at the age of 18 to become a disc jockey. He also occasionally fills in for Rush Limbaugh, an ultra conservative blowhard who recently called a Georgetown law student a slut, leading to over 90 advertisers pulling their advertising on his show. These minor details do not take away from the fact that Mark has become quite the successful journalist, authoring several books. He’s pulled himself up by the bootstraps quite well so to speak, a trait many conservatives find so great.

Mark begins his vigorous rant in his article by pointing out a hard fact that “Obama has run up more debt in three years than President Bush did in eight.” This is an indisputable fact. Anyone can look this up. However, only an angry conservative would stop at that fact.

Let’s explore a few others, shall we? The president who has increased the National Debt the most, by all measures, remains Ronald Reagen [skymachines]. The least… Clinton. In fact, in Clinton’s last year in office, he successfully DECREASED the debt by 2%. George W. Bush followed that up with three consecutive years of an increasing rate of increasing debt, from Clinton’s -2% to 5%, 8%, and then 9%. To Bush’s credit, he decreased this rate over the next 4 years to 8%, 8%, 6%, 6%. But then the recession hit. During Bush’s last year in office the national debt increased by 16% to 10.70 trillion. President Bush’s final tally: an increase from 5.66 trillion to 10.70 trillion, an 89% increase over his two terms indicating an 11.1% average annual increase.

Now, let’s put Obama’s increase in perspective. As we all know, he inherited the presidency in a different time. Here is an excerpt from his Address to the Nation, July 25, 2011:

“As a result, the deficit was on track to top $1 trillion the year I took office. To make matters worse, the recession meant that there was less money coming in, and it required us to spend even more – on tax cuts for middle-class families to spur the economy; on unemployment insurance; on aid to states so we could prevent more teachers and firefighters and police officers from being laid off. These emergency steps also added to the deficit.”

In light of this, the president has improved the horrible trend of increasing debt. In his first year of office, the increasing trend decreased from 16% to 15%. Then, to 14% in his second year. In his third year, 8%.  Using an analogy of a speeding car going toward a cliff, I would call this backing off the accelerator, perhaps going down to 3rd gear.  So, why does Steyn think “A second-term Obama would roar full throttle to the cliff edge” given this information?  Although Obama has run up more debt in three years than Bush did in eight, it has risen by 45% from when he started office.  Some may feel he will surpass Bush’s 89% increase over his two terms, but not if Obama’s decreasing trend continues. 

Steyn is not alone in thinking that “The president doesn’t see [running up debt] as a problem.” Mitt Romney said at a rally in Cleveland, OH that Obama “didn’t even mention the deficit or the debt” in his state of the union address.  I won’t write down the six times that he mentions the debt and addresses a plan to fix it.  I’ll let you read about it and see the ridiculousness of these claims for yourself [Politifact].

With all of these facts, I’m not trying to blame the debt on anyone. That doesn’t accomplish anything. As the president said in the same address referenced above:

“Because neither party is blameless for the decisions that led to this problem, both parties have a responsibility to solve it.”

I want to emphasize something the president says that we should all agree on.  Neither party is blameless.  Yet, Steyn easily points the finger at Obama.  There is a huge reason why Obama’s budgets have not worked very well, and that is that the parties are deeply polarized, in large part because Republicans refuse to consider tax increases on those individuals earning $250,000 or more [Economist].  Mr. Obama wants to cut the deficit by 3.8 trillion over the next decade 1.4 of which could come from raising taxes on the wealthy. 

Obama again said it best:

“Democrats and Republicans agree on the amount of deficit reduction we need.  The debate is about how it should be done.  Most Americans, regardless of political party, don’t understand how we can ask a senior citizen to pay more for her Medicare before we ask a corporate jet owner or the oil companies to give up tax breaks that other companies don’t get.  How can we ask a student to pay more for college before we ask hedge fund managers to stop paying taxes at a lower rate than their secretaries?  How can we slash funding for education and clean energy before we ask people like me to give up tax breaks we don’t need and didn’t ask for?” 

The bottom line is that both parties are to blame.  Both parties are at fault.  Democrats need to make a few more painful cuts to them.  Republicans need to accept a small tax increase that would bring in more revenue.  Why don’t we see such compromise?  Politics.  Republicans cannot give in, because a reduced deficit means that Obama’s chances of re-election would increase.  Democrats cannot give in, because the continued deficit means giving up the presidency.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if our leaders and representatives made decisions based on what was good for the country and not based on power and control?  Unfortunately, that is a story only in fiction.

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