Political Animal


November 17, 2011 8:30 AM Crossing the $15 trillion debt threshold

By Steve Benen

The Treasury Department announced yesterday that the national debt surpassed $15 trillion. Take a guess what Republicans had to say in response to the news.

Republicans are seizing on the occasion to pin the blame on President Obama…. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) pointed out that $4.4 trillion in debt had been added since Obama took office.

“Our skyrocketing debt burden is not just bad luck; it is the predictable outcome of President Obama’s policies,” Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said.

I have no idea whether these folks believe their own rhetoric, but it’s worth taking a moment to appreciate just how little credibility Republicans have on this issue. Watching GOP officials whine yesterday about the debt is the equivalent of watching arsonists complain about fires.

In early August, I ran a timeline of events, taking a little stroll down memory lane. Perhaps now would be a good time to revisit this.

1980: Ronald Reagan runs for president, promising a balanced budget

1981 - 1989: With support from congressional Republicans, Reagan runs enormous deficits, adds $2 trillion to the debt.

1993: Bill Clinton passes an economic plan that lowers deficit, gets zero votes from congressional Republicans.

1998: U.S. deficit disappears for the first time in three decades. The debt clock, which hadn’t been programmed to run backwards, is unplugged.

1999: The country begins paying down the national debt for the first time in more than three decades.

2000: George W. Bush runs for president, promising to maintain a balanced budget.

2001: CBO shows the United States is on track to pay off the entirety of its national debt within a decade.

2001 - 2009: With support from congressional Republicans, Bush runs enormous deficits, adds nearly $5 trillion to the debt.

2001 - 2009: Congressional Republicans throw caution to the wind, approving tax cuts, two wars, Medicare expansion, and a massive Wall Street bailout. They add every penny of the costs to the national debt.

2002: Dick Cheney declares, “Deficits don’t matter.”

January 2009: Barack Obama inherits $1.3 trillion deficit from Bush; Republicans immediately condemn Obama’s fiscal irresponsibility.

December 2009: Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) describes the previous eight years as an era in which Republicans believed “it was standard practice not to pay for things.”

2009 - 2010: Congressional Democrats unveil several domestic policy initiatives — health care reform, cap and trade, DREAM Act — which would lower the deficit. GOP opposes all of them.

September 2010: In Obama’s first fiscal year, the deficit shrinks by $122 billion. Republicans again condemn Obama’s fiscal irresponsibility.

October 2010: S&P endorses the nation’s AAA rating with a stable outlook, saying the United States looks to be in solid fiscal shape for the foreseeable future.

November 2010: Republicans win a U.S. House majority, citing the need for fiscal responsibility.

December 2010: Congressional Republicans demand extension of Bush tax cuts, refuse to consider paying for them, demand that the costs be added to the national debt.

March 2011: Congressional Republicans declare intention to hold full faith and credit of the United States hostage — a move without precedent in American history — until massive debt-reduction plan is approved.

July 2011: Obama offers Republicans a $4 trillion debt-reduction deal. GOP refuses.

August 2011: S&P downgrades U.S. debt, citing GOP refusal to consider new revenues. Republicans rejoice and blame Obama for fiscal irresponsibility.

October 2011: Working through the so-called super-committee, congressional Democrats offer Republicans several plans to reduce the debt by trillions of dollars. GOP officials not only refuse, but counter with alternatives that make the debt worse.

November 2011: The national debt tops $15 trillion. Republicans, hoping Americans ignore the previous 30 years, blame Democrats.

If this is too complicated for Republicans, perhaps some images can help explain this to them. There’s this one:

And this one:

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


Post a comment
  • Donovong on November 17, 2011 8:42 AM:

    You left off: 2003, starts Iraq War and never provides any means to pay for it.

  • Hedda Peraz on November 17, 2011 8:42 AM:

    These are all Democrat numbers.

  • berttheclock on November 17, 2011 8:43 AM:

    One correction to your list. In the Reagan years of '81 to '89, his budgets were passed with the help of Southern Democratic "Boll Weevils", such as then Democratic Rep Phil Graham. Later, they converted to the RepuG Religion. Without their support and some pork thrown to selected Democratic politicos, his budgets would have not passed.

  • Donovong on November 17, 2011 8:44 AM:

    WTF is a "Democrat number?" Facts are facts, dummy.

  • c u n d gulag on November 17, 2011 8:45 AM:

    Reality has a well known Liberal bias.

    So, we don't need no facts or figures.

    Obama's a Democrat.
    All Democrats are Liberals.
    All Liberals do is tax and spend.

    Just ask anyone!

    But don't ask the rightie-hating, prejudiced, Liberal Lame Stream Media.

    Unless they agree with us.
    Then, they're objective, fair, and balanced.

    Otherwise, they're unhinged, God and country hating DFH's!!!

  • Kiweagle on November 17, 2011 9:06 AM:

    Honestly Steve, you are worth your weight in gold for laying out the numbers in this timeline in a manner that even a 5th grader can appreciate. Here's hoping Olbermann, Hayes and Maddow see fit to broadcast on their shows (yes, I'll be e-mailing the link to them).

    To my fellow readers and commenters, whether or not you feel the list is complete or has some errors, save/ print this for future reference and build upon it. November 2012 depends on it...

  • me on November 17, 2011 9:14 AM:

    you need to add:
    april 2011: house gop passes fy budget, adding enough to the deficit to surpass the $15t mark later that year.

  • stormskies on November 17, 2011 9:36 AM:

    Why not email what Steve has laid out to all the evening propaganda .... hmm .. news anchors, to all the cable news people, and especially to all the Sunday propaganda shows to see, against all odds of course, if they are capable of reporting actual facts relating to the national debt instead of the corporate/repiglican propaganda they they are in fact hired to 'report' ... what do you think the chance are ? Sadly, we know the answers ... that's why the vast majority of the corporate media stooges are nothing more than actual white collar criminals ... it is also why the greatest enemy to our country is in fact the corporate media .. meaning the corporations themselves who have now created a FASCIST COUNTRY ....

  • berttheclock on November 17, 2011 9:47 AM:

    Umm, Kiweagle, would you, please, add Lawrence O'Donnell to that list? LO fights the good fight with far more intelligence than many and it was a shame MSNBC had to change his slot.

  • EC Sedgwick on November 17, 2011 10:12 AM:

    Steve is full of it. The national budget has not been balanced in any year that he qoutes.The real national debt is way higher than either side wants to admit.

  • rusty chainsaw on November 17, 2011 10:36 AM:

    Republicans, hoping Americans ignore the previous 30 years, blame Democrats.

    And they'll get away with it.

  • Mark-NC on November 17, 2011 11:05 AM:

    @rusty chainsaw is correct.

    Republicans know that repetition (propaganda) works perfectly - especially if your side has no moral center to get in the way.

  • Kiweagle on November 17, 2011 11:40 AM:

    @berttheclock on November 17, 2011 9:47 AM:
    I too thoroughly enjoy his show via the podcasts posted on MSNBC.com, particularly his "Rewrite" segments.

    The more the merrier! Hell, let's send it to Rove, O'Reilly and Limbaugh too.

  • Anonymous on November 17, 2011 11:55 AM:

    Dear Steve,

    I think some people commenting above are confused about "debt" and "deficit".
    maybe you also need to write about the definitions first.

    and then, you can go on writing about what they are consist of and who had our bonds (hint, it's not china)

  • Common since on November 17, 2011 11:56 AM:

    You are wrong in so many ways. Not only did Ragan promise to balance the budget. He succeeded in balancing the budget and increasing government revinue by cutting taxes. It is economically proven that if you lower taxes the economy grows and when then economy grows government revenue increases. You are economically and politically ignorant. President Clinton only lowered the deficit because the speaker of the house Gingrich passed laws it was none of Clinton's doing. The flaws and faulty logic goes on and on. you are wrong Steve Benen.

  • Schtick on November 17, 2011 12:04 PM:

    Rachel and Lawrence will use it. Probably Ed would, too. One thing I've noticed since they changed the time slots is that each show is saying almost the same things and repeatedly playing the same clips. By the time "The Last Word" comes on, I'm bored and tired of the same thing all over again.
    If anyone plays that freakin Cain clip again I'm gonna throw the tv out the window. Which would be a good thing in the long run.

    crapcha....Thomas, latteenh....latte lover?

  • Common since on November 17, 2011 12:06 PM:

    Oh another thing you are wrong about. When Obama became president he didn not lower deficit. He doubled the government budget and bought general motors. He did not lower the deficit. That is a lie. He spent, spent, spent moneynhe did not lower any deficit. And your predictions are biased, there are faults with every word in this article.

  • chi res on November 17, 2011 12:22 PM:

    @Common since

    Great parody! You make republicans sound exactly like the fools they are!

  • Bill on November 17, 2011 12:34 PM:

    Here's my generalized understanding. correct me if i'm wrong. i'm not an economist.

    Reaganomics is influenced by Milton Freedman who believed that in order to to grow economy, government should lower/flat tax and cut spending and regulations for free market to flaw more naturally.

    During the Reagan's term(1980-88), US economy grew -0.3% to 4.1%.

    But here's a thing. The devil is in the detail.

    in 1970s the businesses were heavily regulated starting from Nixon.
    So Reagan cut and flatten tax from 1970's top rate of 70% to 50% in 1981 and get rid of many business regulations. In 1987, he lowered it to 38.5%.

    in 1988, Bush Senior (i think) lowered it to 28%.
    But recession happened and Clinton raised top tax bracket to be 39.5% and passed welfare reform with Gingrich congress.

    So if Republicans believe in Reagan, should we raise tax back to 50%?
    or should we just raise back to clinton's 39.5%?

    Ayn Land's official "heir", libertarian former fed reserve chairman, Alan Greenspan believe that we should let the bush cut expire.

  • Anonymous on November 17, 2011 12:45 PM:

    if bush tax is supposed to grow economy, why is it that US economy didn't grow for the last 10 years (since house boom was artificial) ?

    is it because bush increased spending instead of cutting like Reagan?
    oh wait, Reagan also didn't cut spending that much besides cutting the aids to the poor.

    is Reagan era growth because of tax or more to do with, i don't know, say eastern europe? soviet? computer microchip? no emerging economy like china?

    could it be globalization and technologies and wars have something to do with economy, too? or am i just stupid?

  • Zach W. on November 17, 2011 3:18 PM:

    The most depressing thing about this whole article is that we could essentially be debt free as of today if the Clinton Era policies would have remained in affect. The Republican hypocrisy on debt and deficits is astounding.

  • Common since on November 17, 2011 3:44 PM:

    The economy didn't grow during the bush administration because despite the media lies Bush was and isstill a liberal and grew the government preventing the economy from doing anything stable and allowed government to control America more. Zach W. It is not all republicans faults the "Clinton" politics you refer to are a sham. Gingrich (a true conservative unlike Bush) balnced the budged to where the dept was shrinking. Clinton did very little in his presidency. They republicans can be hypocrites but that is only because some of them have decided to follow the liberals and destroy the integrity of their own party. All politics are slightly messed up but a true conservative can actually balance the budget like Gingrich did. Hopefully we could have someone like him do that for America again. Oh wait that's right he is running for President. and"Ragan ecomics" was circumstantial it is called economic and it does not change because of technology.

  • dbtexas on November 17, 2011 7:00 PM:

    Why is it that people who use monikers like "Common Sense" rarely have any. Wish he would post some actual statistical analysis to support his commentary, rather than simply throwing out the usual right wing BS.

  • filthburger on November 18, 2011 12:28 PM:

    I'd really love to see what type of numbers Faux News would put together. It seems that every time I send a link to a blind right wing friend of mine, he blames the liberal media for pointing out the bad.

  • Jcinci on November 19, 2011 10:46 AM:

    "Tax and spend"...at least the Dems have a plan to pay for things whilst the Repubs go for the 'play now, pay later' plan which is mostly on the middle class backs and our entitlements.