Steve Benen's excellent and concise history lesson

I'm grateful to my friend David Hulan for pointing out Steve Benen's superb blog on The Washington Monthly's website. The magazine itself is one I've long been a fan of, since rather than focusing exclusively on politics (and then often only on personalities, scandals, and standings in the polls rather than actual substance) as too much press coverage does, the Monthly looks at how government actually works (or doesn't), pointing out waste and failures as well as successes and performance in between, and often making concrete suggestions for improvement.

For once I'm going to quote almost all of one of Benen's blog entries (the original is here) together with some additions of my own and hope he forgives me for doing so. My contributions are in square brackets like [this]; the rest is Steve Benen.

August 06, 2011 11:05 AM
A timeline of events
By Steve Benen

Let’s take a stroll down memory lane, shall we?

[1945: The U.S. emerges victorious from World War II with a national debt 117.5 percent of its annual gross domestic product. The ratio of debt to economy goes down under every subsequent president of both parties with the minor exception of the abbreviated Ford administration, when it stayed basically level.]

[Fiscal year 1969: Lyndon Johnson's final budget produces a surplus at the height of the War in Vietnam, the War on Poverty, and the Apollo program.]

1980: Ronald Reagan runs for president, promising a balanced budget

[January 1981: Jimmy Carter's presidency ends with the national debt only 32.5% of GDP, the lowest ratio since before World War II.]

1981 - 1989: With support from congressional Republicans, Reagan runs enormous deficits, adds $2 trillion to the debt.

1993: Bill Clinton passes economic plan that lowers deficit, gets zero votes from congressional Republicans. [Republican leadership unanimously predicts these policies will surely lead to economic collapse. In fact, Clinton presides over the longest uninterrupted period of economic expansion in American history.]

1998: U.S. deficit disappears for the first time in three decades. Debt clock is unplugged.

2000: George W. Bush runs for president, promising to maintain a balanced budget.

[January 2001: Clinton leaves office having reduced the debt/GDP ratio for the first time since Carter, and by the largest number of percentage points since Eisenhower.]

2001: CBO shows the United States is on track to pay off the entirety of its national debt within a decade.

2001 - 2009: With support from congressional Republicans, Bush runs enormous deficits, adds nearly $5 trillion to the debt. [And pushes through two successive major tax cuts mainly benefiting the rich, the second of which Bush himself was reportedly reluctant to do until Vice President Cheney insisted on it.]

2002: Dick Cheney declares, “Deficits don’t matter.” Congressional Republicans agree, approving tax cuts, two wars, and Medicare expansion without even trying to pay for them.

2009: Barack Obama inherits $1.3 trillion deficit from Bush; Republicans immediately condemn Obama’s fiscal irresponsibility.

2009: Congressional Democrats unveil several domestic policy initiatives — including health care reform, cap and trade, DREAM Act — which would lower the deficit. GOP opposes all of them, while continuing to push for deficit reduction.

September 2010: In Obama’s first fiscal year, the deficit shrinks by $122 billion. Republicans again condemn Obama’s fiscal irresponsibility.

October 2010: S&P endorses the nation’s AAA rating with a stable outlook, saying the United States looks to be in solid fiscal shape for the foreseeable future.

November 2010: Republicans win a U.S. House majority, citing the need for fiscal responsibility.

December 2010: Congressional Republicans demand extension of Bush tax cuts, relying entirely on deficit financing. GOP continues to accuse Obama of fiscal irresponsibility.

March 2011: Congressional Republicans declare intention to hold full faith and credit of the United States hostage — a move without precedent in American history — until massive debt-reduction plan is approved.

July 2011: Obama offers Republicans a $4 trillion debt-reduction deal. GOP refuses, pushes debt-ceiling standoff until the last possible day, rattling international markets.

August 2011: S&P downgrades U.S. debt, citing GOP refusal to consider new revenues. Republicans rejoice and blame Obama for fiscal irresponsibility.

There have been several instances since the mid 1990s in which I genuinely believed Republican politics couldn’t possibly get more blisteringly ridiculous. I was wrong; they just keep getting worse.

[And you think this is bad, just wait. Republican leaders have already promised to repeat their strategy of threatening default unless they get their way.]

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