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Joe Conason: George W. Regrets Dubbing Those ‘Bush Tax Cuts’

Not only should the cuts be named after him, so should the deficit and the debt

By Joe Conason |

When former President George W. Bush made his first public appearance in many months on Tuesday to discuss economic policy in New York, his utterances may have revealed more than he intended.

“I wish they weren’t called the ‘Bush tax cuts,’” he said of the decade-old rate reductions that bear his name. But does he really believe, as he seemed to suggest, that Americans want to let those cuts expire from a desire to spite him? Or is there a deeper Bush somewhere within who would prefer not to be associated with fiscal profligacy and ideological overreach?

Whatever his motives, Bush’s curious remark draws a sharp contrast with his predecessor, former President Bill Clinton — who often speaks proudly of the tax increase that was so central to his first budget as president two decades ago. Clinton, who talks publicly far more often than Bush, often notes that the 1993 tax increase, supported only by Democrats, was the first step toward balance and growth after a dozen years of Republican irresponsibility and stagnation.

It isn’t clear that Bush actually understands the indelible effects of his tax and spending policies. Someone should explain to him what is so painfully obvious when the numbers are added up: Not only should the tax cuts be named after him, so should the deficit and the debt.

The simple math is worth keeping in mind when Bush turns up to advocate maintaining the cuts he passed and legislating still more, which he claims will stimulate the private sector.

“Much of the public debate is about our balance sheet ... or entitlements,” he said, but the solution in his view is to focus on private-sector growth. “The pie grows, the debt relative to the pie shrinks, and with fiscal discipline you can solve your deficits,” Bush said at a Manhattan conference sponsored by his George W. Bush Presidential Center on “Tax Policies for 4 Percent Growth.” Bush Center founding director James Glassman was present to repeat all the usual Republican bromides about incentivizing growth by cutting taxes on the wealthy, preferably to zero.

But as Clinton points out in Back to Work, the book he published last fall, it was his tax increases on the upper brackets (along with spending cuts) that propelled the country toward fiscal balance and a vanishing debt before Bush assumed office in 2001.

“When I was president,” he wrote, “we passed the 1993 budget to reduce the deficit by $500 billion, roughly half from spending cuts, half from tax increases, with only Democratic votes. The bill produced a much greater reduction in the annual deficit than experts predicted, eliminating roughly 90 percent of it even before the balanced budget bill was enacted, because it led to lower interest rates, more investment and higher growth.”

The economic narrative of the Republican presidential campaign will blame increased deficits and debt on President Barack Obama — and argue that cutting federal budgets while reducing taxes on the wealthy will somehow restore growth. Certainly that is what Bush tried to suggest in New York when he spoke so wistfully of his endangered tax cuts. But the math undercuts him.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Bush’s tax cuts and war spending will account for nearly half of the $20 trillion in debt that will be accumulated by 2019. (That doesn’t include his misconceived and costly Medicare prescription drug benefit.) The Obama stimulus and financial bailouts, including the auto revival, will be responsible for less than $2 trillion of the total debt by then, or less than 10 percent.

With due respect to the former president, public revulsion over his failed policies long ago transcended him. Those Bush tax cuts, by any other name, would smell no sweeter.

Joe Conason writes for Creators Syndicate. Click here for more information, or click here to contact him.

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» on 04.14.12 @ 04:39 PM

They should be called the Republican Tax Cuts, Debt, and Deficit. That would make it even clearer.

» on 04.14.12 @ 08:25 PM

Mr. Bush did the job for which Karl Rove, the Koch Brothers, Harold Simmons, and
other avaricious free-market plutocrats, vetted, then elected him.

He freed the richest and most powerful citizens from basic financial or ethical
responsibility for a fair, strong, equitable American nation or society.

Bush wrote a sort-of book that tries to explain his thought process on decision
making and policy, which reads very much like Gertrude Stein’s famous description of Oakland a century ago.

What we know is that Bush arrived to a nation at-peace overseas, and with a
balanced Budget at home, with a large surplus forecast.

Within one term, his team had unwittingly:

Left us open to disastrous al Qaeda domestic attack;
Gone to war with an Iraq which had played no role in 9/11;
Launched two foreign wars no clear idea of either our mission, or Exit strategy;
Created no revenue sources to pay for the two wars, or Homeland Security;
Cut taxes on the rich, reducing federal revenue at the same moment two wars
    were exploding federal spending;
Signed a Medicare “donut hole” bill, which grew more federal costs with no new
  revenue to meet them;
Dismantled the few remaining remnants of the Glass-Steegall “firewall”  against
  financial speculation and self-dealing;
Prioritized as official policy that “every American should have easy access to the
  goal of owning their own home,” which set the groundwork for the insane
  bubble of lending and construction speculation that dominated his 2nd term;
Gave us two more ultra-conservative tools of privilege for the Supreme Court;
Developed zero awareness, or any effective contingencies, when his bubble burst in 2008, trashing McCain’s candidacy and nearly launching a Depression.

Given this presidential history of moving from triumph to triumph, at home and
abroad, over the wreckage of tens of thousands of lives, from his policies, it was
appropriate that Bush exerted some public humility, and had self-disappeared
as the ruination he authored and encouraged exploded all over America, and the

It is sobering that this Fifth Horseman should now begin to publicly re-appear,
just at the moment that his old puppeteer, Karl Rove, has re-engaged the Koch
Bros and Harold Simmons, via his Crossroads PAC, to try to re-seize power in
November, to (perhaps) offer us another eight years of Bush-like policies.

Be afraid, be very afraid.

» on 04.15.12 @ 05:41 PM

It was Bill Clinton’s tax increase that precipitated the dot com bust and economic downturn that GW inherited. Until you idiots on the left get it through your thick, socialist, Keynesian ponzi scheme addled brains that higher taxes slow economic growth and thus revenues to government we will continue to see this idiotic sea saw in taxes and revenues not to mention the erratic behavior of markets.

Government is a net drain on any economy. It has the absolute worse ROI of any entity on earth and yet you stupid morons insist on growing its size, influence and wealth sucking power. Put your dopy partisan knee jerking aside, forget who controls the economy and don’t think about elections and just look at the math, the numbers. Government is BAD for any economy, recently, historically and in every way possible. It’s not about who runs it or how friggen smart they think they are, it’s just the nature of the beast.

Our founding fathers had the good sense to realize this after their experience with the British monarchy. They tried to form a limited powers government with only enough taxing power to take care of national defense and national infrastructure and by God if we idiots who live here haven’t been trying for 200 some odds years to reverse that beautiful concept and go back to a centralized friggen tyrannical damned monarchy. Good grief people! Enough already, stop wishing government was bigger, more onerous and with both its hands in your damned wallet sucking you dry and telling you how to live for God’s sake!

Regardless of party, forget your stupid ideology and just look at what our government has become. Stop wishing it would do friggen more and wish it would shrivel up. Yes that means we as a people need to stop emulating the adult adolescents across the pond or next door and start doing more for our selves, helping each other out and stop looking at that growing behemoth as some sort of surrogate parent.

» on 04.16.12 @ 11:31 PM

My God, Bishop ANchove, you are a tireless and tiresome windbag.

» on 04.17.12 @ 02:29 PM

Another scintillating, intellectual response from the rehab center.

» on 04.18.12 @ 08:35 AM

Always amusing to be lectured to by Noozhawk righties ,  whose past votes have proven to have such abhorrent results.
W’s pathetic history managing Arbusto Oil Co. , Rangers baseball team and running Texas into the red while decimating their environmental guidelines were all clues missed by his low info voting bloc.
  Now comes news that Rather had the story right when he told us about Shrub’s daddy pulling strings to get him his uncompleted stint with the Texas National Guard. This story was blunted at the time due to Rathers’ sloppy use of questionable documents in his rush to air the story. Now we learn that people with intimate knowledge of the facts are stepping forward and validating the basic story “frat boy got special treatment, thanks to daddy.”
  Please , a little introspect and relief from the lectures by our Know It All friends with their dubious voting records.

» on 04.18.12 @ 11:35 AM

Ah, the democrats, never seeing what is right in front of them and always obsessing over the past of their long gone opponents. Willie, had you lefties paid as much attention to the past shenanigans of Barack Obama instead of drooling over his racial pedigree (which BTW is racist) we might have been spared his extension of the Bush tax cuts, Bush wars and doubling of the Bush debt. Hilary Clinton or John McCain would have been far better picks, if only the past was as important to you then.

» on 04.18.12 @ 09:47 PM

In a feeble attempt at bipartisanship , Obama capitulated on extending the GOP’s Holy Grail Bush era tax cuts.That much is true. For Professor Know It All to say - “we might have been spared his extension of the Bush tax cuts” is pure theatre of the absurd.Like the Professor didn’t pee his pants with glee at extending those cuts, heaping even more debt on the pile.

» on 04.19.12 @ 03:52 AM

“heaping even more debt on the pile”

That’s rich that you’re so outraged at Bush for the burgeoning debt. Take a look at the increase in federal govt spending for the last 3 years and then report back to us.

» on 04.19.12 @ 09:13 PM

Lou , as others before me have noted - you seem to need a tad bit of help with reading comprehension.

» on 04.20.12 @ 02:03 PM

Simple!  Just look up the unemployment rate under George Bush.  Look up government revenues.  If it wasn’t for the reinvestment act forcing banks to loan without documentation, we probably wouldn’t have had the problem we have today.  And, unfortunately…Bush became a liberal spender.  But his revenues were higher than Clintons and the unemployment rate was 4 to 4.5%.  Funny, how soon people forget with our media driving the liberal agenda.

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