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Tag Archives: Troubled Asset Relief Program

The President and the False Blame Game

This article was brought to my attention by a friend of mine (shoutout to Kovarik Glasco, fellow Georgia Tech grad and fellow fan of the “Song of Ice and Fire” series).

There is a narrative that President Obama and many on the left engage in when discussing the economy.  Even two-plus years into the new presidency, the “blame Bush” technique is still used.  In this narrative, the picture painted shows runaway spending and runaway deficits during the Bush years.  And the main point he uses is that the year he entered office he inherited a deficit of nearly $1 trillion.

But in an article found on the Huffington Post, Dean Baker, Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, shows how this narrative just isn’t true:

This is simply not true. In its budget projections from January 2008, the last set before the impact of the collapse of the housing bubble was clear, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projected a deficit of just $198 billion for 2009. This is less than one-fifth of the “on track to top $1 trillion” figure that President Obama gave in his speech. This is a serious error. One trillion is a much bigger number than $198 billion.

This difference is central to the budget debate. People can argue that the $198 billion deficit projected for 2008 was too large. But it would be absurd to claim it was out of control or represented any remotely serious threat to the nation’s solvency. In fact, over the five years 2003-2007 the country’s debt to GDP ratio was virtually unchanged, meaning that the country could run deficits of the same size (relative to the economy) literally forever.

This changed with the recession caused by the collapse of the housing bubble. It was the recession, and the response to it, that pushed the deficit in 2009 from the $198 billion projected by CBO to the over $1 trillion noted by President Obama in his speech.

Further, Dick Morris explains where the President is getting his numbers from:

In 2008, George W. Bush ran a deficit of $485 billion. By the time the fiscal year started, on Oct. 1, 2008, it had gone up by another $100 billion due to increased recession-related spending and depressed revenues. So it was about $600 billion at the start of the fiscal crisis. That was the real Bush deficit.

But when the fiscal crisis hit, Bush had to pass the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) in the final months of his presidency, which cost $700 billion. Under the federal budget rules, a loan and a grant are treated the same. So the $700 billion pushed the deficit — officially — up to $1.3 trillion. But not really. The $700 billion was a short-term loan. $500 billion of it has already been repaid.

So what was the real deficit Obama inherited? The $600 billion deficit Bush was running plus the $200 billion of TARP money that probably won’t be repaid (mainly AIG and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac). That totals $800 billion. That was the real deficit Obama inherited.

Then … he added $300 billion in his stimulus package, bringing the deficit to $1.1 trillion. This $300 billion was, of course, totally qualitatively different from the TARP money in that it was spending, not lending. It would never be paid back. Once it was out the door, it was gone. Other spending and falling revenues due to the recession pushed the final numbers for Obama’s 2009 deficit up to $1.4 trillion.

One important note that both writers mentioned: the important thing being missed is JOBS. Job creation will create income earners, which will boost the economy and help revenues. This is what the debate in Washington should be all about.