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POLITICS: White House

Blaming Bush still in vogue at White House

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Politics,White House,Brian Hughes,Campaign 2012,Politics Digest

Even as President Obama prepares to open his second term, the White House on Thursday was still blaming his predecessor, Republican President George W. Bush, for the nation's economic woes, including its soaring debt.

"When this president was sworn into office, he was handed a deficit of over a trillion dollars," said White House press secretary Jay Carney. "Republicans were in control of Congress for much of the time that President George W. Bush was in office, and they didn't do a great job of controlling spending."

Obama won re-election last month despite his inability to rein in economic problems during his first term -- in part, because he was able to convince voters that Bush was to blame for the dismal state of the economy and that his Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, would continue Bush's policies, exit polls showed.

Obama claimed recently that Bush was responsible for 90 percent of the country's current deficit, an assertion that fact checkers widely dismissed as false.

Analysts scoffed at Obama's continued use of Bush as a scapegoat, noting the national debt has increased more in the president's first term than all eight years under Bush. The debt grew $4.9 trillion during the Bush presidency but has already increased by $5.7 trillion since Obama took office in 2009.

"There's no question that Republicans were irresponsible in the 2000s," said Ron Haskins, co-director of the Brookings Institution's Budgeting for National Priorities Project. "But that's ancient history -- who cares? The president has had four years but still hasn't come close to balancing the budget."

Obama inherited two wars and an unfunded prescription drug plan, but the president also initiated his own massive spending programs that added to the red ink, including an $800 billion stimulus package, an extension of Bush-era tax cuts and a cut in the Social Security payroll tax.

But Democrats say the blame-Bush mantra remains a valuable political tool.

"If it weren't effective, they wouldn't keep doing it," said Democratic strategist Keir Murray. "If they can lump congressional Republicans with Bush, they can tell people, 'Why listen to the people who caused this mess in the first place?' "

Still, Murray added, "There is not an unlimited clock. At some point, the public is going to tell Obama, 'It's your responsibility.' "

Obama argued repeatedly on the campaign trail that Bush-era tax cuts contributed to the financial meltdown, and that reasoning has extended to the current debate about avoiding the so-called fiscal cliff.

Now, the White House argues, "Deficit reduction in and of itself is not the goal," saying that any plan to avert the fiscal cliff must lay the foundation for economic growth rather than just improve the nation's balance sheet.

And some economists said the White House was right to attribute the current fiscal conditions to economic headwinds at the start of Obama's presidency.

"Had it not been for the collapse of the economy," said Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, "we wouldn't be talking about these large budget deficits."

bhughes@washingtonexaminer.com

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