Fox News and Rush Limbaugh have repeatedly criticized President Obama for supposedly being responsible for huge deficits. However, both recently attempted to defend former President Bush's policy of not paying for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars or his tax cuts.
Limbaugh: “The whole notion of paying for tax cuts has always offended me”
Conservative media attack Obama for noting that Bush didn't pay for tax cuts or wars. Limbaugh and the hosts of Fox & Friends attacked Obama for his statement at a September 20 town hall event that “we had two tax cuts that weren't paid for, two wars that weren't paid for. We've got a population that's getting older. We're all demanding services, but our taxes have actually substantially gone down.” From the town hall:
OBAMA: The problem that I've seen in the debate that's been taking place and in some of these Tea Party events is I think they're misidentifying sort of who the culprits are here. As I said before, we had to take some emergency steps last year. But the majority of economists will tell you that the emergency steps we take are not the problem long term. The problem long term are the problems that I talked about earlier. We've got -- we had two tax cuts that weren't paid for, two wars that weren't paid for. We've got a population that's getting older. We're all demanding services, but our taxes have actually substantially gone down.
And so the challenge, I think, for the Tea Party movement is to identify specifically what would you do. It's not enough just to say, get control of spending. I think it's important for you to say, I'm willing to cut veterans' benefits, or I'm willing to cut Medicare or Social Security benefits, or I'm willing to see these taxes go up.
What you can't do -- which is what I've been hearing a lot from the other side -- is say we're going to control government spending, we're going to propose $4 trillion of additional tax cuts, and that magically somehow things are going to work.
Limbaugh: “You don't pay for tax cuts.” Discussing Obama's statement that the Bush tax cuts and wars were unpaid for, on September 20, Limbaugh said: “This whole premise here is misguided. Tax cuts were not paid for? You don't pay for tax cuts. The whole concept of paying for tax cuts is foreign. It's wrong. It's irrelevant.” Limbaugh later added: “The whole notion of paying for tax cuts has always offended me, as though government is first, last, and always, and whatever happens -- they are the single greatest repository of greed in the world, Washington, DC, including even all the tyrannical dictators around the world.” Limbaugh expanded on his views: “You don't pay for tax cuts. Tax cuts generate wealth creation. The purpose of tax cuts is not to stimulate government; it's to help the economy.”
Limbaugh also falsely suggested that tax cuts pay for themselves, saying: “By the way, revenues to the U.S. treasury in 2003 were in the neighborhood of $2.1 trillion. In 2007, revenues to the treasury were in the neighborhood of two-and-a-half trillion.” He later added: “Revenues went up. The same thing happened in the 1980s.” In fact, Bush's own economists acknowledged that the tax cuts did not pay for themselves.
Limbaugh: “The president said we had two wars that were not paid for,” well “nothing is being paid for.” From the September 20 edition of Limbaugh's show:
LIMBAUGH: Now the president said we had two wars that were not paid for. OK. Let me put it this way: Medicare is not paid for. The war on poverty is not paid for. Social Security is not paid for. Medicaid is not paid for. The Department of Education is not paid for. The EPA is not paid for. Why do you single out the Pentagon when the whole government is in deficit? Nothing is being paid for, Mr. President. Nothing. We're bankrupt. The country is broke. Nothing is being paid for. Two wars that weren't paid for? The Environmental Protection Agency is not paid for. Running Air Force One is not paid for. We don't have the money. Everything is adding up to a deficit.
Fox & Friends hosts defend Bush tax cuts and war spending. During the September 21 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, Kilmeade responded to Obama's remarks about the cost of the wars by stating, “And when you say the wars aren't paid for, what you're saying is that they went through the supplemental budget. They'd have the budget on line and they'd go through the supplemental. So then they would, of course, put the money there”:
CARLSON: So a couple of thoughts when you hear that. First of all, the taxes, the reason the taxes went down over the last decade is because Bush put those into effect. Those are called the Bush tax cuts. And the spending, let's just take the president's comments on their face. Let's just say yeah, we did pay for two wars. Yeah, we did pay for some of that other stuff. Well then if you come in as president, why would you add to the spending? Because then we added health care and a bunch of other stuff to that. So you're being disingenuous to say that that spending came from the Bush eight years if you also don't add your spending to the top of the equation.
KILMEADE: And when you say the wars aren't paid for, what you're saying is that they went through the supplemental budget. They'd have the budget on line and they'd go through the supplemental. So then they would, of course, put the money there.
KILMEADE: So when you talk about the president doing that, at which time when they actually would put the budget together for the war, that's when everyone would throw in all their pork barrel projects.
KILMEADE: The bridges and what have you. But in the meantime --
KILMEADE: He's saying what Bill Clinton's saying. You get the talking points? The tea party -- I'm one of the tea party.
KILMEADE: I agee with them. We find it a noble thing that the tea party is out there.
KILMEADE: But let's get this straight. If you truly want to be a tea partier, you'll cut veterans benefits, you'll cut unemployment benefits, you'll cut Social Security, and you'll cut Medicare.
DOOCY: Right. He wanted specifics. “Tea party people, what do you want to cut?”
Limbaugh and Fox & Friends have repeatedly attacked Obama over deficits
Limbaugh: Obama is a “coward” without the “spine” or “gonads” to admit he caused federal deficit. On December 21, 2009, Limbaugh attacked Obama for noting that when he came into office, the nation faced “a deepening fiscal hole.” Limbaugh claimed:
LIMBAUGH: So [Obama] has the audacity here to say that Republicans spend your money like Monopoly money, and again blaming the Bush administration. This guy is a coward. He does not have the gonads or the spine to even stand up and accept what he's doing. All of this is his doing.
Additionally, on the February 18 edition of his show, Limbaugh said that Obama “has spent us into this state of ruin in one year”:
LIMBAUGH: There's not a person who's engaged in this in the world who doesn't know why this has happened. It's called Barack Hussein Obama Barry Soetero, who has spent us into this state of ruin in one year. Barack Hussein Obama. And now he's calling in these two retreads with 18 other people -- or 16 other people to study this?
LIMBAUGH: Why are these guys even accepting the bill? What's in it for irksome [sic: Erskine] Bowles and Alan Simpson to accept the gig? Because if they're going to approach this honestly, they can produce their report today. And it would say, “Mr. President, either resign or put somebody else in charge of spending, because you are bankrupting and destroying the country.”
Fox & Friends uses falsehood to attack Obama over deficits. On the February 25 edition of Fox and Friends, Kilmeade cited Karl Rove to claim that Obama “in the past has said things that have proven blatantly untrue” like, “for example,” that “his budget wouldn't triple the deficit, and it has.” In fact, only a portion of the fiscal year 2009 deficit is due to Obama's policies. Fox & Friends has also repeatedly hosted Fox News contributor Dick Morris to attack and spread falsehoods about Obama's contributions to the deficit. In addition, Fox & Friends has run on-screen text saying “Stop Goverment [sic] Spending!”
In fact, the Bush tax cuts and war spending helped turn surpluses into deficits
When Bush came into office, the budget was in surplus. In Fiscal Year 2001, which covered October 1, 2000 - September 30, 2001, the government ran a surplus of more than $128 billion. But spending and tax policies -- as well as a recession and the 9-11 attacks -- quickly turned those surpluses into deficits.
CBO projected $1.2 trillion deficit for 2009 before Obama took office. CBO predicted a $1.2 trillion deficit for Fiscal Year 2009 before Obama took office. From CBO's January 2009 budget report, released on January 7:
The ongoing turmoil in the housing and financial markets has taken a major toll on the federal budget. CBO currently projects that the deficit this year will total $1.2 trillion, or 8.3 percent of GDP. That total, however, does not include the effects of any future legislation. Enactment of an economic stimulus package, for example, would add to the 2009 deficit. In any event, as a percentage of GDP, the deficit will most likely shatter the previous post-World War II record high of 6.0 percent posted in 1983.
A drop in tax revenues and increased federal spending (much of it related to the government's actions to address the crisis in the housing and financial markets) both contribute to the robust growth in this year's deficit. Compared with receipts last year, collections from corporate income taxes are anticipated to decline by 27 percent and individual income taxes by 8 percent; in normal economic conditions, they would both grow by several percentage points. In addition, the estimated deficit includes outlays of more than $180 billion to reflect the cost of transactions of the TARP.
The projected deficit for 2009 also incorporates CBO's estimate of the cost to the federal government of the recent takeover of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Because those entities were created and chartered by the government, are responsible for implementing certain government policies, and are currently under the direct control of the federal government, CBO has concluded that their operations should be reflected in the federal budget. Recognizing the cost of the takeover adds about $200 billion (in discounted present-value terms) to the deficit this year, reflecting the long-term net cost of the more than $5 trillion in credit guarantees issued and loans held by those entities at the start of the fiscal year. In addition, the cost of Fannie Mae's and Freddie Mac's new credit activity in 2009 will total $38 billion, CBO estimates.
NY Times: 33 percent of "$2 trillion swing" from surplus to deficits attributed to Bush policies “like his tax cuts and the Medicare prescription drug benefit. A June 9, 2009, New York Times analysis reported that 33 percent of the "$2 trillion swing" from surpluses projected by the CBO in 2001 to deficits “stems from” legislation signed by Bush. The Times added: “That legislation, like his tax cuts and the Medicare prescription drug benefit, not only continue to cost the government but have also increased interest payments on the national debt.”
Bush war spending cost $944 billion. In a July 16 report titled “The Cost of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Other Global War on Terror Operations Since 9/11,” the Congressional Research Service (CRS) stated, “Congress has approved a total of $1.086 trillion for military operations, base security, reconstruction, foreign aid, embassy costs, and veterans' health care for the three operations initiated since the 9/11 attacks: Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) Afghanistan and other counter terror operations; Operation Noble Eagle (ONE), providing enhanced security at military bases; and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF).”
CRS also stated that most of the spending was passed through “emergency funding” or other mechanism, “which exempts these funds from the caps and budget rules that limit funding for discretionary spending, which fund all DOD and State Department programs and some but not all of VA programs.”
Tax Policy Center: Bush tax cuts cost more than $1.7 trillion from 2001-10. In 2007, the Tax Policy Center estimated that between 2001-10, the Bush tax cuts decreased revenue to the government by more than $1.7 trillion -- and by $286 billion more when including a patch to cover the people who would otherwise be forced to pay the Alternative Minimum Tax because of the Bush tax cuts. In an August 27, 2009, blog post, Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman stated that when interest costs are factored in, “we're presumably talking about more than $2 trillion in debt” from the tax cuts.