Efforts by Democrats to point the finger back at Republican opponents for the explosion of the national debt and deficit in recent years ignores their own dismal track record during the last two years of the Bush administration.
When Democrats took control of Congress from Republicans in 2007 they had the same opportunity to force the Bush administration to reduce non-defense spending and bring the federal budget into balance that Newt Gingrich had in 1995, but they didn’t take it.
A 2007 National Taxpayer’s Union study found the Democrats introduced three times as many new spending bills in the 110th Congress in their first year with a majority than Republicans had during the 104th Congress under Gingrich’s watch in 1995. They also introduced five times fewer spending reduction bills than the Republicans did when they began forcing Bill Clinton to cut the federal deficit.
The stark contrast between the path Democrats took after 2007 and that Republicans took in the 1990s under Newt Gingrich’s leadership can be seen in the comparison between the budgetary projections from before and after both parties came to power.
In 1993, the Congressional Budget Office projected the federal budget deficit would hit $361 billion in 1998; however, Gingrich and the Republicans succeeded in forcing Clinton to balance the budget that year due to their change in fiscal policy.
Clinton and the Democrats had to be dragged along to balance the budget because they fought against it every step of the way, former Gingrich press secretary Tony Blankley said.
This was exemplified by Bill Clinton’s decision to shutdown the federal government in 1995 in response to Republican plans to cut $57 billion from the federal budget compared with the prior year.
“We cut over $50 billion in discretionary spending, which doesn’t sound like much now, but it was then, for the first time in almost 30 years,” Blankley said.
By contrast, Democrats pushed through a budget in May 2007 that included $21 billion more in discretionary spending than the Bush administration had requested.
But Blankley said Republicans succeeded in getting Clinton to agree to a balanced budget in 1997 for the 1998 fiscal year because of an unforeseen windfall of new revenue into the federal treasury.
Before Democrats took control of Congress in 2007, they sounded a bit like the Republican deficit hawks had during the Clinton years—chastising Republicans for their deficit spending.
“[T]he Republican budget bill will increase the deficit by $20 billion. Again, increase the deficit ,” Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) said during a Nov. 4, 2005, House floor debate. “And Republicans call themselves fiscally responsible? Well, the American people will be watching next week, and they will not be deceived.”
Democratic Rep. John Spratt Jr. (S.C.) similarly attacked Republicans during an April 2005 floor debate for increasing the deficit by $127 billion in the House version of the fiscal 2006 budget then under consideration and by $217 billion in the Senate version.
But the Democratic leadership’s track record since taking control Congress makes their stated concern over the deficit look like pure partisan posturing—both then and now—instead of a matter of conviction.
Once Democrats took the reins of Congress, they did nothing to force George W. Bush to balance the budget. Consequently, Democrats lack any credibility when they blame Bush for the deficit.
“In comparison to previous years, the 110th Congress kicked off with more calls for budget savings, but … the average Democrat, perhaps empowered by majority status, called for more spending than ever,” a 2007 National Taxpayers Union report said.
The NTU report found Democratic spending proposals introduced during their first year with a congressional majority totaled $1.58 trillion in new spending in the House and $958 billion in new spending in the Senate. At the same time, Democrats only proposed $44.9 billion in cost reductions in the House and $61 billion in the Senate.
Democratic fiscal policies have converted the improved budgetary forecasts from the last GOP-controlled budget in 2006 into a fiscal nightmare scenario.
That year, CBO foresaw a $222 billion budget deficit for 2010 instead of the current $1.35 trillion deficit that Democratic fiscal policies have given us since 2007.
The same projection also foresaw a $38 billion surplus in 2012 instead of the $650 billion deficit being currently projected for that same year under current CBO data.
The 2006 CBO projection also foresaw a $259 billion deficit for 2008 instead of the $455 billion deficit that materialized at the end of the 2008 fiscal year—the first budgetary year Democrats had control of since they passed the budget for the 1995 fiscal year in 1994.
Congress, not the president, controls spending. And the president is barred by Supreme Court precedent dating back to the Nixon administration in the 1970s from not spending the money Congress allocates, so George W. Bush could not have prevented a single dollar appropriated by Congress from being spent even if had he wanted to.
Consequently, last year’s $1.4 trillion deficit had as much to do with the Democratic majority’s mismanagement of the federal budget as it had to do with the bad economy and Bush’s signing their spending proposals into law.
Democrats also share responsibility with the Bush administration for passing the unpopular $700 billion TARP bailouts, which most Republicans and many Democrats opposed, because they pushed it through Congress together with the president.
According to the Bureau of the Public Debt, the national debt mushroomed under the Democratic majority’s watch during the 110th Congress from $8.6 trillion in January 2007 to $10.6 trillion in January 2009—adding $2 trillion to the national debt.
When Barack Obama scolds the Bush administration for the state of the federal budget when he came into office, it rings hollow because he voted for both budgets Democrats passed during the 110th Congress, and he never went on record opposing his party’s spending orgy.
Now that Democrats hold both the White House and Congress, they have nowhere to hide the blame for their runaway spending, which was exemplified by last year’s $787 billion stimulus, $410 billion omnibus spending bill and tens of billions in additional bailouts for GM, Chrysler and others.
All of this has added $1.73 trillion to the national debt since Obama’s inauguration. If Obama and the Democrats think they can paper over their track record since taking over Congress in 2007 with a cosmetic deficit reduction panel and spending freeze starting next year they are mistaken.
Voters want real spending reductions and fiscal discipline, not smoke and mirrors.
John Rossomando is an experienced journalist whose work has been featured in numerous publications such as CNSNews.com, Newsmax and Crisis Magazine. He also served as senior managing editor of The Bulletin, a 100,000-circulation daily newspaper in Philadelphia and received the Pennsylvania Associated Press Managing Editors first-place award in 2008 for his reporting.