The deficit and spending

Ask the average American what led to the trillion-plus deficits in recent years, and the likely answer would be a flood of new spending by President Obama. (That’s certainly what Republicans would tell you.) But as the chart to the left shows, it’s simply not true. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities updated its very illuminating graph showing the actual breakdown of the contributors to the deficit – past, present and future.

As you can see, emergency spending for economic stimulus, TARP and Fannie and Freddie bailouts made up a significant chunk of the deficit in 2009, 2010 and this year. That spending will fall off this year as the stimulus winds down (alas). But even at the height of such spending, it only made up a small portion of the deficit. Most of the deficit was – and will continue to be – a result of three major factors: putting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan on the national credit card, the continuation of the Bush tax cuts and lower revenue caused by the economic downturn.

Republicans will continue to refuse to acknowledge that, obviously. Reversing the Bush tax cuts is clearly off the table, even though they are far greater drivers of the deficit than any of the spending cuts Republicans have proposed. That’s because the Republican obsession with the deficit isn’t about the deficit at all, it’s about cutting the size of government.

But keep this graph in mind the next time someone tries to blame President Obama for the deficit. The truth is that Bush policies and the economic downturn are almost solely responsible for the current deficit.

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