Since Republicans like to talk about their commitment to reducing the debt, a look at history should help. The chart below displays each year whether the government had a surplus or a deficit and by how much as a percentage of GDP. Let’s look at the presidencies of the past 30 years and see what happened.
Reagan: 1981-1989 – Deficits spiked in 1982-83 and continued to be well above the rates before Reagan. There is a sharp reduction by 1987 and 1988, but still roughly in line with the level of deficit of the 1970’s.
George Bush: 1989-1993 – Debt levels increased again under George H. W. Bush. Not to Reagan levels, but an increase nonetheless.
Bill Clinton 1993-2001 – The trend under Clinton is unmistakable. Deficits steadily reduced throughout the 90’s and reached a surplus in the late 90’s and early 2000’s
George W. Bush: 2001-2009 – Another unmistakable trend. Surpluses were abandoned and the deficit steadily increased.
Barack Obama: 2009-present – Republicans like to blame Obama for the level of debt under his watch, but there is absolutely no way anybody could expect a low level of debt after the financial crisis. Deficit to GDP is is also larger because GDP decreased in 2009 and the recovery has been weak. The level of the deficit has been decreasing every year of Obama’s presidency.
So over the past 30 years we have had Republicans increase deficits, a Democrat who had the first surplus since the 1960’s, and a Democrat who inherited a terrible economy but has reduced deficits every year of his term. How are Republicans getting away with portraying themselves as fiscal hawks?
(Image above from this Council on Foreign Relations article.)