Jonathan Chait

David Brooks Defends W

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David Brooks, chatting with Gail Collins, defends the Bush administration:

It’s true the prescription drug bill was unpaid for, though I would mention the market elements in that reform have proven to be fantastically successful. Beyond that (and the small matter of the tax cuts, which Republicans are not complaining about) his administration was reasonably tight on spending. Deficits until the recession hit were less than 2 percent of G.D.P., not in the double digits as now.

On the Medicare stuff, I don't know how you define "fantastically successful." Medicare Advantage plans cost the government 17% more per beneficiary than traditional Medicare, and the benefits seem highly marginal. Basically that's an expensive boondoggle.

Brooks' comparison on the deficit is pretty poor. He' not understanding how economic cycles impact fiscal policy. Bush inherited a budget that was running a surplus of 2.4% of GDP at the peak of the economic cycle. By implementing a series of large tax cuts, a drug benefit, and two wars without any cost offsets, he turned it into a budget that was running a deficit of 1.2% at the peak of the economic cycle. And then, when the economy crashed, the budget was running a massive deficit.

The favorite conservative tactic is to compare the deficits under Bush with the deficits under Obama. This comparison is not useful for any purpose other than partisan spin. Obama inherited a budget that was structurally in deficit, compounded by a cyclical disaster that further demanded massive deficit spending in order to forestall a depression. Bush's policies remain a huge contributor to the fiscal crisis:

Moreover, Obama's policies reduce the deficit somewhat in comparison with current policy:

You can accuse Obama of not going far enough to fix the mess he inherited. But it's just absolutely bizarre to favorably compare Bush's fiscal policy to Obama's when the former increased the structural deficit by an enormous amount and the latter has, so far, decreased it by a modest amount.

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