18 May 2012

Romney on the National Debt: Piling Up IOUs to the Facts

When Barack Obama became President, the US economy was in the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. The preceding administration had inherited a budget in surplus and then run up large deficits, including tax cuts due to expire and an expansion of the Medicare entitlement. Remember the headlines from late 2008? Remember the Onion’s Election Day joke, “Black Man Given Nation’s Worst Job”?

People with OIP Derangement Syndrome are unable to remember those facts. Their guts are so affected by who became President in January 2009 that their minds can’t remember what happened in the preceding months.

As a candidate for his second elective office, Mitt Romney is playing to that selective amnesia. This week’s look at OIP Derangement Syndrome comes from the Associated Press’s fact-checking of Romney’s campaign speech in Iowa.

When Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney decried the “prairie fire” of U.S. debt Tuesday, he ignored some of the sparks that set it ablaze. One was the Great Recession that took hold before Barack Obama became president. That landmark event went unmentioned in Romney’s speech. Another was a series of Bush-era tax cuts that Romney wants to follow with even lower rates. Instead he laid the blame on Obama…

ROMNEY: “America counted on President Obama to rescue the economy, tame the deficit and help create jobs. Instead, he bailed out the public sector, gave billions of your dollars to the companies of his friends, and added almost as much debt as all the prior presidents combined.”

THE FACTS. Hardly. Presidents from George Washington through George W. Bush ran the national debt up to $10.62 trillion, the amount it was on the day Obama took office. Today, it is $15.67 trillion, according to the Treasury Department’s Bureau of Public Debt. So it has gone up by $5.05 trillion under Obama. That’s roughly half of the amount amassed by all the other presidents combined.

In short, the debt has gone up by about half under Obama. Under Ronald Reagan, it tripled.

ROMNEY: “I will lead us out of this debt and spending inferno. We will stop borrowing unfathomable sums of money we can’t even imagine, from foreign countries we’ll never even visit. I will bring us together to put out the fire.”

THE FACTS: Romney's tax and spending plans don’t support his vow to dampen the debt fire. He proposes to cut taxes and expand the armed forces, putting yet more stress on the budget, and his promise to slash domestic spending isn’t backed by the big specifics. . . . A study by the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget concluded earlier this year that Romney’s plans would not make a dent in deficits, and could worsen them considerably. That study was done before Romney upped his tax cuts, inviting even deeper debt. . . .

ROMNEY: “The people of Iowa and America have watched President Obama for nearly four years, much of that time with Congress controlled by his own party. And rather than put out the spending fire, he has fed the fire. He has spent more and borrowed more. ... When you add up his policies, this president has increased the national debt by $5 trillion.”

THE FACTS: Much of the increase in the debt is due to lower tax revenues from depressed corporate and individual incomes and high joblessness in the worst recession since the Great Depression. The recession officially began in December 2007, when George W. Bush was president and the national debt stood at just over $9 trillion. Financial bailouts, stimulus programs and auto rescue spending that started under Bush and continued under Obama contributed to the run-up of the debt.

But so did the Bush-era tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003. With bipartisan support, Congress has extended the tax cuts until the end of this year, and Romney’s proposals for big cuts of his own would risk another squeeze on revenue.
Romney’s tendency to shift positions and lie, noted many times by his Republican rivals and critics right up until the moment he clinched the party nomination, dovetails with the visceral desire of some voters to believe anything bad about President Obama. It’s a campaign based not on policy differences—which would certainly be possible—but on lies.

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