Comparing Bush Spending to Clinton Spending
Yesterday, Jed Lewison of Daily Kos put up a post comparing Clinton’s eight years of spending to Bush’s eight years of spending. The post- which cited the very reputable Tax Policy Center for its budget claims- showed just how badly Bush spent compared to Clinton. According to Lewison, Clinton saved over $100 billion in his final budget, Fiscal Year 2001.
I found the post interesting- not the least because Lewison cited the TPC, a partnership of the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution- but also because TPC’s (and, thus, Lewison’s) claims are in direct contrast to what the Treasury itself shows in the 2000-2001 Fiscal Year, which is an increase in the federal debt of over $100 billion. I decided to contact Lewison about his claims. Below are the questions I sent, and his responses:
1. According to the Treasury, the debt increased from 9/30/2000 to 9/30/2001. What are the differences between the numbers you used and the numbers from the Treasury?
2. How much of the Bush debt you cited can be attributed to the growth in entitlements started pre-Clinton and pre-Bush years (i.e. not including the Medicare Drug Bill, etc. that added to the debt) and that obviously grew during both presidencies?
1) The increase in total debt is basically an increase in the Social Security Trust Fund (i.e., intragovernmental debt, money that the government owes itself, which accounts for a bit over a third of all debt). I’m not an expert on all the accounting rules, but if you look at the non-intragovernmental debt, it decreased. But how Social Security is accounted for is a separate issue from the overall fiscal well being of the Federal government under Bush and Clinton.
2) Outside of new programs like the Medicare drug plan, the rate of growth in entitlements should be a wash; since they are proscribed by law, both administrations would have experienced growth in them. The underlying demographics would have had to have been huge to explain the difference in overall spending growth rates.
Regarding #1, Clinton almost balanced the annual budget, but never took care of the long-term entitlement issues America was (and still is) expected to face. So while he (and his Republican Congresses) should get credit for almost balancing the budget, they should also get blame for not touching the Third Rail of politics that is Social Security. I think Lewison is mostly right on this one, though I disagree with his last sentence. (Note: the 2000-2001 recession cut into the revenues in FY2001, which Clinton could not have accounted for in his FY2001 budget, since the recession started one month after the start of FY2001.)
Lewison is a bit more inaccurate in his second point. The rate of entitlements can’t be a wash, as they continue to annually increase as a percentage of the national budget. This in no way excuses Bush and the Republicans for their spending spree(s), nor the Democrats who were in charge for two fiscal years during the Bush presidency, but it does clarify things a bit, I think.
Lewison’s post does point out that a Democratic president spent much better than a Republican president, and rightly so. He did, however, miss that that Bush was opposed by most Republicans on TARP (which Democrats mostly supported, as well as much of the Republican leadership), and while he acknowledged the drop in revenues from the recession at one point in the post, he neglected to do the final math. Using Lewison’s numbers:
- The FY2009 deficit was $1.4 trillion;
- the stimulus accounted for $200 billion of that deficit;
- and the recession accounted for $400 billion losses in revenue for FY2009.
So, while the deficit was an atrocious $800 billion, what Bush was directly responsible for in FY2009 deficit was not nearly as bad as Lewison would like to think. It certainly was not as bad as the FY2010 or proposed FY2011 budgets under President Obama (who, admittedly, has to deal with a terrible recession and seven decades of entitlements and many years of war he is not responsible for).
Overall, as I have been saying for some time, both parties need to grow up. The Debt-Paying Generation is here, as a previous post pointed out, and unless we get a batch of politicians willing to reform how much we spend on Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and defense, the situation is only going to get worse. (And no, the new health care law won’t help prevent that financial worsening.)
Full disclosure: I informed Lewison I would likely be using his comments in a post. I am not pulling a bait-and-switch by asking him for his thoughts without disclosing I would use them.