In the early days of the Obama administration, a lot of people, including some Republicans, weren't much bothered by the new president's tendency to blame his predecessor for the nation's problems. After all, Barack Obama did inherit a mess from George W. Bush. The voters were inclined to give Obama time to turn things around.
But how much time? Certainly a year was reasonable. And so, as Obama's one-year mark approached in 2010, many political analysts assumed he would stop blaming Bush for the nation's woes. The conversation would change from the problems Obama inherited to the effectiveness of his efforts to fix them.
But a year passed, and Obama and his supporters continued to point the finger at Bush. At that point, nearly everyone assumed that when Obama's two-year mark came, he would certainly have to stop blaming his predecessor.
But no -- Obama kept at it, all the way through the three-year mark. And now, in the president's fourth year in office, with his-re-election campaign under way, some of the president's defenders have come up with something new entirely. They're not only still blaming Bush for the problems of the Obama administration -- they're blaming Bush for anticipated problems in Obama's second term, should he win one.
Specifically, a number of commentators on the Left have come up with a scenario in which they blame Bush for nearly all future federal budget deficits until at least 2019.
"The economic downturn, President Bush's tax cuts and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq explain virtually the entire deficit over the next ten years," writes the left-leaning Center for Budget and Policy Priorities in a report released last week. The major drivers of deficits through 2019, the Center says, are "not of President Obama's making."
The argument, which is popping up in liberal publications, has conveniently appeared at a time when Mitt Romney is blaming Obama for out-of-control spending. "If you want to pin blame for deficits on a president, a much more plausible candidate would be the guy who had the job before Obama," writes Jonathan Cohn of the New Republic. Asks Sahil Kapur of the widely read lefty website Talking Points Memo: "To what extent are [Obama's] decisions while in office to blame? The answer: very little."
Is that really the case? Is the war in Iraq, which ran from 2003 to 2011, really going to drive the deficit in 2019? And what about Afghanistan, with American forces on schedule to leave? "It's ludicrous," says former Congressional Budget Office chief Douglas Holtz-Eakin. "We are out of Iraq and nearly out of Afghanistan. And under current law we are scheduled to take another $500 billion out of defense."
Holtz-Eakin also notes that the Center blames the 2009 deficit on Bush even though that year includes the $821 billion stimulus bill. "There was a LOT of activity in the final nine months [of fiscal 2009] that had nothing to do with Bush," he says. In addition, the 2009 deficit included two massive one-time-only expenditures: the Troubled Asset Relief Program and the bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. But spending did not plunge after that. "The fact that spending remains as high as [2009's] means that Obama has replaced temporary spending with persistent spending," says Holtz-Eakin.
The Center also insists Obama's signature achievement, national health care, will reduce the deficit in coming years, despite new estimates it will cost far more than originally claimed.
And then there are the Bush tax cuts, under which deficits actually shrank in the 2000s. With those cuts fully in place, the federal budget deficit went from $413 billion in 2004 to $318 billion in 2005 to $248 billion in 2006 to $162 billion in 2007. (The deficit climbed in 2008, to $410 billion, but that was caused by the economic downturn.) Why is the Center so confident that those cuts, if they remain in place, will explode the deficit in 2019?
And by the way, President Obama himself supports making the Bush tax cuts permanent, with the exception of lower rates for individuals making more than $200,000 a year and couples making more than $250,000. If Obama gets his way, and the tax cuts remain in place except for those in the upper bracket, will George W. Bush still be driving the deficit in 2019?
The new blame-Bush-forever argument shows, once and for all, that the Democrats' Bush obsession has raced completely out of control. Barack Obama has been president nearly four years and is asking for four more. The election is about him.
Byron York, The Examiner's chief political correspondent, can be contacted at email@example.com. His column appears on Tuesday and Friday, and his stories and blogposts appear on washingtonexaminer.com.