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If nothing else, the debt ceiling crisis provided what Barack Obama is so fond of calling a "teachable moment." Hopefully, that extends to the President himself. After seeing his nominees blocked, his legislation filibustered and popular upper-income tax increases delayed by Republicans who withheld their support from his watered down stimulus and health care programs, President Obama nevertheless continued to seek common ground with those whose only goal remains his political destruction. The result was as painful as it was predictable.
As for the rest of us, here are 25 things we learned during the debt crisis.
(1) We learned that Republicans really care about the national debt, but only when a Democrat is in the White House. As Dick Cheney put it, "Reagan proved deficits don't matter."
(2) We learned that the national debt tripled under Ronald Reagan, forcing him to raise the debt ceiling 17 times. Overwhelmed by the torrents of red ink unleashed by his supply-side tax cuts of 1981, Reagan raised taxes eleven times while in office. (His deficit reduction initiatives of 1982, 1984 and 1987 relied on over 75% in new tax revenue.) It's no wonder Reagan called the mountain of debt he bequeathed to America his greatest regret.
(3) We learned that George W. Bush nearly doubled the national debt, leaving Barack Obama a $1.2 trillion annual deficit and almost $11 trillion in debt on January 20, 2009.
(4) We learned that the Bush tax cuts were the single biggest factor in erasing the projected surpluses Dubya inherited from Bill Clinton. The Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 accounted for almost half of the red ink during his tenure, and if made permanent, would contribute more to the debt over the next decade than Iraq, Afghanistan, the recession, the stimulus and TARP combined.
(5) We learned that tax cuts don't "pay for themselves" or "always increase revenues." Only in 2005 did federal tax revenue reach the pre-Bush tax cut levels of 2000.
(6) We learned that the Republicans' so-called job creators don't create jobs when their taxes are low. In fact, the data show that the far more jobs were created and the economy grew much more quickly when the top 1% of income earners paid higher - even much higher - taxes.
(7) We learned that for John Boehner, some "spending binges" are more equal than others. While spending under Barack Obama rose by about 10% from George W. Bush's last budget in FY 2009, federal outlays almost doubled between 2001 and 2009. As it turns out, the two unfunded wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the budget-busting Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 (the first war-time tax cut in modern U.S. history) and the Medicare prescription drug program drained the U.S. Treasury. Mitch McConnell, John Boehner and Eric Cantor voted for all of it.
(8) We learned that Republicans have short memories. When Eric Cantor complained recently that "what I don't think the White House understands is how difficult it is for fiscal conservatives to say they're going to vote for a debt ceiling increase," he apparently forgot that Republican majorities voted seven times to raise the debt limit under President Bush. Along with John Boehner, Mitch McConnell and Jon Kyl, Cantor and the current GOP leadership team voted a combined 19 times to increase George W. Bush's borrowing authority by $4 trillion. (That vote tally included a "clean" debt ceiling increase in 2004, backed by 98 current House Republicans and 31 sitting GOP Senators.)
(9) We learned that Republicans are bad at genetics, too. Last Friday, Texas Rep. Jeb Hensarling claimed that for Republicans, raising the debt ceiling is "contrary to our DNA."
(10) We learned that in rare moments of candor, Republicans can speak the truth. In January, Speaker Boehner acknowledged that failure to raise the debt ceiling would cause "financial disaster." And Utah Senator Orrin Hatch explained that when President Bush was in the White House, for Republicans "it was standard practice not to pay for things."
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