Policy: Budgets & Deficits

CBO makes it offficial — Obama broke deficit pledge

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Philip Klein,Barack Obama,Budgets and Deficits,CBO,Spending

The Congressional Budget Office on Friday reported that the federal government ran a $1.1 trillion deficit in fiscal year 2012, making it official that President Obama broke his promise to cut the deficit in half within his first term in office.

On Feb. 23, 2009 (a month into his presidency) Obama convened a “fiscal responsibility summit” in the White House, and declared, “[T]oday, I’m pledging to cut the deficit we inherited in half by the end of my first term in office. Now, this will not be easy. It will require us to make difficult decisions and face challenges we’ve long neglected. But I refuse to leave our children with a debt that they cannot repay — and that means taking responsibility right now, in this administration, for getting our spending under control.”

Two weeks before Obama was sworn into office — the CBO released projections for the upcoming decade that took into account all of President Bush’s decisions as well as the ongoing collapse of the U.S. economy. At the time, the CBO projected deficits of $1.186 trillion in 2009. This is the deficit Obama can reasonably claim he inherited.

Reducing the deficit by 50 percent by the end of his first term would have brought the fiscal 2012 deficit to $593 billion. Instead, the CBO reported today that it was $1.090 trillion, or 8 percent less than the one he inherited. The Obama administration ran deficits of over $1 trillion for each of his years in office, for a total of about $5.1 trillion.

Obama’s defenders might argue that at the time he made that statement, he didn’t grasp the full extent of the economic crisis. The problem with that argument is that he continued to restate that pledge even after the economic picture deteriorated further. As I reported in a recent column:

(A)t a July 20, 2010, press availability, Obama insisted, “We are on the path to cutting our deficits in half.”

On Feb. 15, 2011, Obama touted his fiscal year 2012 budget that was released after he had already signed a full extension of the Bush tax cuts. “When I took office, I pledged to cut the deficit in half by the end of my first term,” he said. “Our budget meets that pledge and puts us on a path to pay for what we spend by the middle of the decade.”

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