Fox Misrepresents Bush Policies' Effect On Debt, Deficit Spending

Fox News is downplaying the role Bush policies continue to play in driving debt and deficit spending and attacking President Obama for accurately noting that the high debt and deficit spending was “baked into the cake” when he took office. But independent experts -- including an adviser to President Reagan -- say that Bush policies are almost entirely to blame for the country's deficit problems.

Obama: Debt And Deficit Spending Was “Baked Into The Cake” When I Took Office

Obama: Bush Administration “Baked All This Stuff Into The Cake With Those Tax Cuts ... And The War.” At a June 12 campaign event in Baltimore, MD, Obama pointed out that much of the debt and deficit spending that has occurred under his administration was “baked into the cake” by policies from the Bush administration. From Politico:

“I love it when these guys talk about debt and deficits,” Obama told supporters in Baltimore. “I inherited a trillion dollar deficit.”

“We signed two trillion dollars in spending cuts into law,” Obama said. “Spending under my administration has grown more slowly than under any president in 60 years.”

Obama said that the country's budget deficits and big debt were the result of the George W. Bush's two tax cuts, as well as the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

“They baked all this stuff into the cake with those tax cuts... and the war,” Obama said.

“It's like somebody goes to a restaurant, orders a big steak dinner, a martini and all that stuff, then just as you're sitting down they leave and accuse you of running up the tab,” Obama said. [Politico, 6/12/12]

Fox Misrepresented Bush's Effect on Debt And Deficit To Attack Obama

Fox's Carlson Blamed Obama For Elevated Debt, Deficit Levels. On the June 13 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Gretchen Carlson responded to Obama's appearance by showing deficit levels over the past ten years and claiming deficit spending “took a huge, huge increase after” 2008 because “He didn't seem to be concerned about the deficit when he took office.” From Fox & Friends:

CARLSON: Let's take a look at the numbers. Because the president said it comes down to the numbers, and if people try to tell you to look at the numbers don't believe them. That's what he just said. So let's look at the numbers. Here are the budget deficits under Presidents Bush and Obama. As you can see by the graph right there, going back to 2002 and then moving up to past 2008, it took a huge, huge increase after that.

BRIAN KILMEADE (co-host): Well yeah, the debt rose to $4.8 trillion during two terms of Bush administration. Now President Obama has exceeded that in just his two years -- In just his three and a half years in office. It's now at over -- it's close to $16 trillion. When Bush left office it was $10 trillion. I guess the president's contention is all of these bills were left to pay. However he's still submitting what we know is not a budget, but his payments still go over a trillion dollars over the deficit every year that he's been in office.

CARLSON: He didn't seem to be concerned about the deficit when he took office, because his first main mission besides closing Guantanamo Bay was to pass health care. When he had --

KILMEADE: And to bail out the auto industry.

CARLSON: And he had the Democrats in the House and the Senate so he could have had total control over reducing the deficit. But, see, that doesn't really fly in the face of the ideology on that particular party line. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 6/13/12]

But Bush Policies Did Drive Most Of The Debt And Deficit Spending

Reagan Adviser Bartlett: “Bush Is More Responsible” For “The Current Budget Deficit.” In a June 12 post on the New York Times' Economix blog, former Reagan and George H. W. Bush adviser Bruce Bartlett called the Republican claim that “all increases in the debt or deficit” since his inauguration are President Obama's fault “is, of course, nonsense” because "[George W.] Bush is more responsible." From The New York Times:

Republicans assert that Barack Obama assumed sole responsibility for the budget on Jan. 20, 2009. From that date, all increases in the debt or deficit are his responsibility and no one else's, they say.

This is, of course, nonsense - and the American people know it. As I documented in a previous post, even today 43 percent of them hold George W. Bush responsible for the current budget deficit versus only 14 percent who blame Mr. Obama.

The American people are right; Mr. Bush is more responsible, as a new report from the Congressional Budget Office documents.


They would also have us believe that all of the increase in debt resulted solely from higher spending, nothing from lower revenues caused by tax cuts. And they continually imply that one of the least popular spending increases of recent years, the Troubled Asset Relief Program, was an Obama administration program, when in fact it was a Bush administration initiative proposed by the Treasury Department that was signed into law by Mr. Bush on Oct. 3, 2008.

Lastly, Republicans continue to insist that tax cuts are highly stimulative, often saying that they add nothing to the debt, when this is obviously ridiculous. [The New York Times, 6/12/12]

Mother Jones: Without Bush Policies “We Would Have Entered The Great Recession With One Of The Lowest Debt Levels In The Advanced World.” In a June 12 Mother Jones post, political blogger Kevin Drum wrote:

A few days ago the Congressional Budget Office released a short analysis explaining why the $5.6 trillion surplus they projected for the decade following 2001 instead turned into a $6.1 trillion deficit.


Even if we absolve George W. Bush of responsibility for those “economic and technical factors” -- mainly the Great Recession -- his policies are still responsible for a turnaround of about $8.4 trillion in the deficit projections. In other words, if we had merely hung onto the policies of the Clinton administration, paid for things like Medicare Part D, and avoided the disastrous war in Iraq, we would have entered the Great Recession with one of the lowest debt levels in the advanced world. That in turn would probably have kept the housing bubble a bit smaller than it was, making the Great Recession a little less catastrophic, and would have given us more headroom for fiscal stimulus in 2008 and 2009, which also would have reduced both the length and depth of the recession. [Mother Jones, 6/12/12]

Ezra Klein: Bush Policies Responsible For Vast Majority Of Debt Increase Under Obama Administration. In a January 31 Washington Post column, Klein estimated that Obama's policies are responsible for $983 billion of the nearly $5 trillion increase in public debt over the course of his administration, while the remainder of the debt increase is attributable to Bush-era policies. From The Washington Post:

[I]f you're a deficit-obsessed voter, the clock doesn't answer the key question: How much has Obama added to the debt, anyway?

There are two answers: more than $4 trillion, or about $983 billion. The first answer is simple and wrong. The second answer is more complicated but a lot closer to being right.

When Obama took office, the national debt was about $10.5 trillion. Today, it's about $15.2 trillion. Simple subtraction gets you the answer preferred by most of Obama's opponents: $4.7 trillion.

But ask yourself: Which of Obama's policies added $4.7 trillion to the debt? The stimulus? That was just a bit more than $800 billion. TARP? That passed under George W. Bush, and most of it has been repaid.

There is a way to tally the effects Obama has had on the deficit. Look at every piece of legislation he has signed into law. Every time Congress passes a bill, either the Congressional Budget Office or the Joint Committee on Taxation estimates the effect it will have on the budget over the next 10 years. And then they continue to estimate changes to those bills. If you know how to read their numbers, you can come up with an estimate that zeros in on the laws Obama has had a hand in.

A chart accompanying the column made in conjunction with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) illustrated the debt impact of Bush's policies versus Obama's:


[The Washington Post, 1/31/12, 1/31/12]

Politifact: In Contrast To Bush, “Obama Has The Second-Lowest Increase” In Federal Spending “Of Any President In 60 Years.” After examining the numbers, Politifact determined that “using raw dollars, Obama did oversee the lowest annual increases in spending of any president in 60 years.” Politifact also reported that “using inflation-adjusted dollars, Obama had the second-lowest increase -- in fact, he actually presided over a decrease once inflation is taken into account.” An accompanying chart showed that Bush presided over the second highest average percentage increase per year.


[Politifact, 5/22/12]

For more on the impact that Bush's policies have had on the federal debt, click here.