Mort Zuckerman, who once endorsed Barack Obama for the presidency and allegedly helped write one of his speeches, uses his perch at US News today to blast the White House as “the most fiscally irresponsible government in US history.” Zuckerman includes Congress in this indictment as well, blaming Democrats for driving the US towards an unprecedented debt crisis, and Republicans for only coming to fiscal responsibility out of midterm politics:
There are two warning signs of a budget crisis: rising debt and the loss of confidence that the government will deal with it. This administration is on the verge of fulfilling both conditions. In fairness, there is no majority coalition in Congress for deficit reduction today. It is also true that the growth of public debt has been driven by a dramatic diminution of tax receipts due to the recession, the extra spending to avoid sinking into a self-perpetuating depression, and all those billions we invested to save the financial sectors from their sins. Voters see the politicians most vociferous about reining in the federal budget as those who are out of power and want to use it against the majority party. Too many politicians claim they are all for balanced budgets—but only by reducing the other party’s priorities. Republicans want to reduce social spending. Democrats want to reduce military spending. It is Washington as usual.
Amid the clamor and counterpromises, the historic record is worth keeping in mind. We paid for World War II through growth. The national debt, as a percentage of gross domestic product, fell sharply through the postwar presidencies of Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson (despite the Vietnam War) and continued edging down through most of Nixon’s, rising a little with Ford’s. We marked time in the stagflation of the Carter years, and then the debt percentage increased dramatically during the Reagan-Bush presidencies. It shot up again to the present dangerous levels under George W. Bush and Obama. The only good years were Clinton’s.
It’s worth remembering that the good years of the Clinton administration came only after Republicans took control of Congress, and only after Clinton’s attempt to restructure the health-care sector angered the population. Sound familiar? In 1994, Republicans won on a limited-government, fiscal-responsibility platform and made it work with a Democratic President. In most of the other terms, Republican Presidents had to deal with Democratic Congresses, when the Democratic Party was much less about the 1960s New Left than it is today. Unfortunately, many of those Republicans got co-opted by the Beltway mentality and lost all sense of responsibility and accountability in the 2001-6 period, for which voters rightly rebuked them.
Zuckerman scolds Republicans for wanting to reduce “social spending,” but without sharp cuts to entitlements, how would Zuckerman proceed to fiscal responsibility and debt reduction? That is where most of the money is going, after all, and where Democrats have vastly expanded spending and government jurisdiction over the last four years while they controlled Congress. He even notes the need to reduce spending on Medicare and Social Security — not exactly a difficult conclusion — as a condition of fixing the problem. Shouldn’t Zuckerman point out that Republicans have it correct, while the Democratic focus on defense spending is ignoring the elephant in favor of the mouse?
It’s also worth pointing out that the consequences of the Democratic agenda were patently obvious in 2008. Higher spending was going to create more debt, and actually had already started piling up deficits from the Democratic Congress before the 2008 election. Annual federal spending went up by 38% in just three years, an increase of over a trillion dollars in the budget, all of which was deficit spending. This also wasn’t a difficult calculus to make, and yet Zuckerman endorsed and campaigned for Barack Obama and the Democratic agenda that has led us to the brink of a Greece-like crisis.
I agree with what Zuckerman has to say here, but let’s not forget how we got here or who led us to it, and who apparently still doesn’t want to recognize which party at least comprehends the problem and has the tough but necessary solutions at the ready for it.