Pelosi and Reid called Bush's budgets "dangerous" and "unpatriotic," but with Obama, they've changed their tune
Back in 2006, when Democrats were hoping to win control of the House and Senate, party leaders worked themselves into a righteous outrage over the issue of out-of-control federal spending. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called the Republican budget “irresponsible” and “unpatriotic” because it increased the amount of U.S. debt held by foreign countries. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., accused Republicans of going on “an unprecedented and dangerous borrowing spree” and declared GOP leadership “the most fiscally irresponsible in the history of our country … no other president or Congress even comes close.”
You won’t find too many defenders of George W. Bush’s record on spending these days, even among Republicans. But a check of historical tables compiled by the Office of Management and Budget shows that the spending that so distressed Pelosi and Reid seems downright modest today. After beginning with a Clinton-era surplus of $128 billion in fiscal year 2001, the Bush administration racked up deficits of $158 billion in 2002, $378 billion in 2003, $413 billion in 2004, $318 billion in 2005, $248 billion in 2006, $162 billion in 2007, and $410 billion in 2008.
The current administration would kill to have such small numbers. President Barack Obama is unveiling his budget this week, and, in addition to the inherited Bush deficit, he’s adding his own spending at an astonishing pace, projecting annual deficits well beyond $1 trillion in the near future, and, in the rosiest possible scenario, a $533 billion deficit in fiscal year 2013, the last year of Obama’s first term.
And what about the national debt? It increased from $5 trillion to $10 trillion in the Bush years, leading to dramatically higher interest costs. “We pay in interest four times more than we spend on education and four times what it will cost to cover 10 million children with health insurance for five years,” Pelosi said in 2007. “That’s fiscal irresponsibility.”
Now, under Obama, the national debt — and the interest payments — will increase at a far faster rate than during the Bush years.
“We thought the Bush deficits were big at the time,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, told me this week as he prepared to attend Obama’s Fiscal Responsibility Summit. “But this is going to make the previous administration look like rank amateurs. We could be adding multiple trillions to the national debt in the first year.”
At some point last week, the sheer velocity of Obama’s spending proposals began to overwhelm even experienced Washington hands. In the span of four days, we saw the signing of the $787 billion stimulus bill, the rollout of a $275 billion housing proposal, discussion of Congress’s remaining appropriations bills (about $400 billion) and word of a vaguely-defined financial stabilization plan that could ultimately cost $2 trillion. When representatives of GM and Chrysler said they might need $21 billion more to survive, it seemed like small beer.
The numbers are so dizzying that McConnell and his fellow Republicans are trying to “connect the dots” — that is, to explain to the public how all of those discrete spending initiatives add up to a previously unthinkable total. Obama’s current spending proposals, Republicans point out, will cost more than the United States spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the general war on terror and Hurricane Katrina in the last seven years. And that’s before you throw in the $2 trillion fiscal stabilization plan.
“This is big government, man,” McConnell exclaimed, his matter-of-fact manner giving way to sheer amazement. “It makes previous attempts at big government pale in comparison — they’re going to go beyond the New Deal and the Great Society by far.”
The new spending guarantees that the problems that so disturbed Pelosi and Reid just a couple of years ago — high interest payments and an increasing number of foreign debt-holders — will get worse. Yet so far, the Democratic leaders have refrained from using words like unpatriotic, irresponsible and dangerous to describe Obama’s budget.
Of course, they would never use such phrases to attack their own team. But the most important thing to understand about Pelosi and Reid is that while their rhetoric has changed, their substance hasn’t. Back in the Bush days, when they were denouncing Republican over-spending, they were also pushing the congressional leadership to spend more, not less, on just about everything. Now, returned to power, they’re doing the same thing. Only bigger.
Byron York, The Examiner’s chief political correspondent, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears on Tuesday and Friday. His stories and blog posts appear on ExaminerPolitics.com.