By one count, the president has publicly vowed to “solve problems, not pass them on to future presidents and future generations” upwards of 400 times.
As the clock starts to run out on Bush’s presidency, we know, of course, that the opposite is true. Global warming, the war in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan, a weak economy … not only is Bush passing monumental problems onto his successor, he’s created new ones that didn’t exist when he got there.
This is especially true when it comes to the federal budget. Bush inherited the largest surplus ever recorded ($128 billion), but his fiscal legacy is a painful one.
The White House on Monday predicted a record deficit of $490 billion for the 2009 budget year, a senior government official told CNN.
The deficit would amount to roughly 3.5 percent of the nation’s $14 trillion economy.
The official pointed to a faltering economy and the bipartisan $170 billion stimulus package that passed earlier this year for the record deficit.
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) said Bush “will be remembered as the most fiscally irresponsible president in our nation’s history,” adding, “If they gave out Olympic medals for fiscal irresponsibility, President Bush would take the gold, silver and bronze. With his eight years in office, he will have had the five highest deficits ever recorded. And the highest of those deficits is now projected to come in 2009, as he leaves office.”
Curbing the deficit will fall to Bush’s successor and the next Congress following a time when taxes were cut and major spending initiatives were undertaken, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, transportation projects, farm subsidies, Medicare prescription drug coverage and a recently passed expansion of veterans’ education benefits.
The actual 2009 deficit could climb still higher because the new projection does not reflect full funding for the wars. In addition, a worsening economy could add to the red ink by reducing tax revenue and increasing safety-net payments, such as jobless benefits and food stamps.
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To be fair, the deficit, while approaching a half-trillion dollars — that’s “trillion,” with a “t” — isn’t entirely a record-setting shortfall. In terms of deficits as a percentage of GDP, Reagan’s deficits were worse. What’s more, we’ve had worse deficits when adjusted for inflation.
But Bush’s record is nevertheless a humiliating one. The president took office supporting a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution, and assuring voters that he would keep the federal government in the black.
Instead, when all is said and done, Bush will have added $2 trillion to the national debt, and will be the first and only president to ever cut taxes during a war, effectively putting major military conflicts on the national charge card.