December 30, 2011

AP’s Pace Perpetuates Pathetic Claim That National Debt’s Rise Is Due to Wars and Bush Tax Cuts

There are press memes which won’t go away no matter what, and no matter how often disproven. One, repeated in an Associated Press report a couple of weeks ago as our troops were about to leave Iraq, claimed that “No WMD were ever found” there. The truth: Yes they were — along with 550 metric tons of yellowcake uranium found in Iraq after Saddam was overthrown, specifically “the stuff that can be refined into nuclear weapons or nuclear fuel.”

Another meme which won’t die and fails to pass the truth test was in an AP item by Julie Pace about President Obama’s decision to defer raising the debt ceiling by $1.2 billion today. In it, she repeated the leftist line about how the national debt has grown so large (HT to an NB emailer):

The debt limit is the amount the government can borrow to finance its operations. It has soared because the government has run record deficits over the past decade. The borrowed money has helped pay for two wars, stimulate the nation’s economy after the worst recession since the Great Depression and keep intact broad tax cuts initiated during the Bush administration.

During the past decade — in other words, from December 31, 2001 until the latest business day available (December 29) — the national debt has increased from $5.94 trillion to $15.13 trillion (results obtained at this interactive link) — an increase of $9.19 trillion. From the beginning of 2002 until January 20, 2009, the day Barack Obama was inaugurated, the national debt increased by $4.69 trillion to $10.63 trillion, or about $1.8 billion per day for 2,577 days.

In the slightly less than three years since Obama’s inauguration (1,073 days), the debt has grown by $4.50 trillion, almost as much as it did during the previous seven years, and by a daily amount of $4.2 billion.

During the first 18 months of the ten-year period — the time during which the highest Bush Era deficits were being run — the majority of the Bush tax cuts were not in place (they didn’t take effect until mid-2003). After the investment-related and across-the-board tax cuts of 2003 were enacted, government tax collections increased dramatically (44% in four years). The idea that the Bush cuts had anything to do with the national debt climbing out of control is absurd. The idea that rescinding those cuts after the recession began or during the pathetically weak recovery of the past 2-1/2 years would have raised any significant kind of additional revenue is equally absurd, because raising taxes would have prolonged the recession, made the recovery even less noticeable, or could even have thrown the economy into another recession.

The contribution of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to the debt increase is relatively small. A picture caption at the AP item I mentioned earlier on Iraq pegged the war’s cost at “more than $800 billion.” Even that number seems a bit inflation, but if it’s right, it’s only about 9% of the previous decade’s increase.

That leaves two items: spending increases and recession-driven collection decreases. The latter, almost all of which has occurred on Obama’s watch is probably responsible for about $1.2 trillion, or 13%, of the national debt increase.

That leaves little over three-quarters of the increased still unexplained (100% minus 9% for the wars and 13% for reduced collections). It’s all due to other spending and the taking on of “off-budget” debt obligations. A large portion of the remainder is directly linked to the stimulus and its effective perpetuation, since federal spending did not decline after the stimulus program officially ended.

It really isn’t worth presenting further detail, as the point has been made. The AP’s and establishment press’s party line about why the national debt has increased by over $9 trillion during the past decade is flat-out wrong. They won’t change their tune, and yours truly won’t stop refuting it every time it’s seen.

Cross-posted at


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