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The $1.8 Trillion Deficit


The White House raised the 2009 budget deficit projection to a staggering $1.8 trillion today. For context, it took President Bush more than seven years to accumulate $1.8 trillion in debt. It also means that 45 cents of every dollar Washington spends this year will be borrowed.

President Obama continues to distance himself from this “inherited” budget deficit. But the day he was inaugurated, the 2009 deficit was forecast at $1.2 trillion — meaning $600 billion has already been added during his four-month presidency (an amount that, by itself, would exceed all 2001-07 annual budget deficits). And should the president really be allowed to distance himself from the $1.2 trillion “inherited” portion of the deficit, given that as a senator he supported nearly all policies and bailouts that created it?

The president also talks of cutting the deficit in half from this bloated level. But even after the recession ends and the troops return home, he’d still run $1 trillion deficits — compared to President Bush’s $162 billion pre-recession deficit. In other words, the structural budget deficit (which excludes the impacts of booms/recessions) would more than quintuple.

Polls suggest the public tolerates these large deficits because they erroneously believe them to be temporary. Conservatives need to emphasize that the president’s agenda would use a temporary recession to create a permanent restructuring of Washington, with historic tax increases and permanent budget deficits to follow.

But in order to regain their budget credibility, conservative lawmakers must first take responsibility for the runaway spending that created the Bush deficits. Then they should ask the electorate not to register their anger at $200-$300 billion GOP budget deficits by letting President Obama run $1-$2 trillion deficits.

— Brian M. Riedl is Grover M. Hermann fellow in Federal Budgetary Affairs at the Heritage Foundation.


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