A few inconvenient truths getting in the way of the "inherited" meme

As Barack Obama continues to blame his predecessor for the tanking economy and the chronic unemployment that Obama promised to avoid with his big stimulus package more than two years ago, and as other Democrats get aboard the Blameshift Express, Byron York attempts to set the record straight.  He focuses on the claim that eight years of spending and “reckless tax cuts” by the Bush administration bankrupted the country.  When one looks at the numbers, the Democratic argument doesn’t stand up at all:

This week a Florida Democratic representative, Corrine Brown, explained her vote against the debt-ceiling agreement by citing “eight years of horribly reckless spending and excessive tax cuts for the rich under President Bush and the Republican Congress.”

Some critics have trouble with even the most basic facts. George W. Bush was indeed president for eight years. But do Brown and her colleagues remember that Congress was fully controlled by Republicans just four of those eight years? The GOP ran the House from 2001 to 2007, Bush’s first six years in office, while Republicans only controlled the Senate from 2003 to 2007. (In Bush’s first three months, the Senate was divided 50-50 until the May 2001 defection of Republican Sen. James Jeffords gave Democrats control.)

As far as tax cuts are concerned, Bush did indeed cut taxes for the wealthy — along with everybody else who paid income taxes. But does Brown remember that tax revenues actually increased in the years after the Bush tax cuts took effect?

Revenues fell in Bush’s first two years because of a combination of the tech bust and the start of the tax cuts. But then things took off. After taking in $1.782 trillion in tax revenues in 2003, the government collected $1.88 trillion in 2004; $2.153 trillion in 2005; $2.406 trillion in 2006; and $2.567 trillion in 2007, according to figures compiled by the Office of Management and Budget. That’s a 44 percent increase from 2003 to 2007. (Revenues slid downward a bit in 2008, and a lot in 2009, when the financial crisis sent the economy into a tailspin.) “Everybody talks about how much the Bush tax cuts ‘cost,'” says one GOP strategist. “We’re saying, no, they led to a huge increase in revenue.”

And deficits shrank. After beginning with a Clinton-era surplus in 2001, the Bush administration ran up deficits of $158 billion in 2002; $378 billion in 2003; and $413 billion in 2004. Then, with revenues pouring in, the deficits began to fall: $318 billion in 2005; $248 billion in 2006; and $161 billion in 2007. That 2007 deficit, with the tax cuts in effect, was one-tenth of today’s $1.6 trillion deficit.

York notes that it wasn’t until Democrats took over Congress in 2007 — including one Democrat named Barack Obama in the Senate — that deficits began exploding.

Next, Harry Reid said that the loss of eight million jobs came during “the Bush eight years” in a floor speech this week, a claim that Politifact rated as “pants on fire”:

“My friend (Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.) talks about no new taxes,” Reid said. “Mr. President, if their theory was right, with these huge (tax cuts) that took place during the Bush eight years, the economy should be thriving. These tax cuts have not helped the economy. The loss of eight million jobs during the Bush eight years, two wars started, unfunded, all on borrowed money, these tax cuts all on borrowed money — if the tax cuts were so good, the economy should be thriving. If we go back to the prior eight years during President Clinton’s administration, 23 million new jobs were created.”

A reader asked us whether Reid was correct that there was a “loss of eight million jobs during the Bush eight years.” So we looked into it.

As always, we looked at jobs numbers compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the government’s official source of employment data.

During Bush’s eight years in office — January 2001 to January 2009 — the nation actually gained a net 1.09 million jobs. (Because there were gains in government jobs, the private sector actually lost 653,000 jobs during that period.)

This isn’t remotely close to what Reid claimed. Reid’s office didn’t respond to our request for information, but we think we know what he was referring to.

From the economy’s peak to its low point, the nation lost 8.75 million jobs. Here’s the problem: The peak for jobs came in January 2008, while the low point for jobs came in February 2010.  This means the starting point for Reid’s measure came seven years into Bush’s eight-year tenure, and the low point occurred about a year into Barack Obama’s tenure.

In other words, Reid had a point in saying that there was a “loss of eight million jobs” — but it didn’t come “during the Bush eight years.” The loss of eight million jobs occurred during a roughly two-year period shared more or less equally between Bush and Obama.

Well, the data is easily retrievable from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (now that it’s finally back on line), so let’s take a look at seasonally-adjusted private-sector employment over the last twenty years.  I’ve compiled the total number (seasonally adjusted) of private-sector jobs each month over the last 20 years and put them into this chart:

The blue colors of this graph show when Democrats held complete control of Congress, while the white areas show when Republicans held complete control.  The two purple areas show when Democrats controlled the Senate, as York notes above, and when Republicans controlled only the House.  This gives a much different picture of when job losses occurred, and who controlled policy in Congress when it happened.

When Democrats talk about “eight years of job losses” during the Bush administration, just show them this chart.