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Right Turn
Posted at 09:45 AM ET, 08/23/2011

Obama’s unparalleled debt creation

Mark Knoller of CBS News reports:

The debt was $10.626 trillion on the day Mr. Obama took office. The latest calculation from Treasury shows the debt has now hit $14.639 trillion.
It’s the most rapid increase in the debt under any U.S. president.
The national debt increased $4.9 trillion during the eight-year presidency of George W. Bush. The debt now is rising at a pace to surpass that amount during Mr. Obama’s four-year term.

The report generated a swift retort from Gov. Rick Perry’s campaign. Spokesman Ray Sullivan had this t say via e-mail last night: “Governor Perry knows this $14 trillion federal debt – including the $4 trillion racked-up by the fiscally irresponsible Obama Administration – is a unacceptable burden on our children’s and country’s future. As President, Rick Perry will work to reduce federal spending, reduce the size and scope of the federal government, and pass a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution to get the federal debt under control.” A spokeswoman for Mitt Romney reacted this way: “Obama will have added more to the national debt by the end of his first term in office than all of the 43 prior presidents combined.”(The Romney campaign uses a starting point of $6.307 trillion in debt when Obama entered office and the Congressional Budget Office’s projected debt in Obama’s final year of his first termof $12.784 trillion.)

According to the Keynesian cheerleaders, all that borrowing and spending should have spurred growth and job creation. Instead, as the Wall Street Journal reports, “Lackluster economic data and weeks of stock-market gyrations are spurring forecasters to cut projections for U.S. growth for the second half of the year and beyond. Some now see the U.S. economy growing at a 1% annual rate for the rest of 2011, a pace so slow that any shock—such as more market turmoil or Europe’s debt crisis spinning out of control—could knock the economy into recession.”

Matt McDonald, a former Bush official and now a communications consultant, tells me, “The debt is a two-fold problem for the president. First, it contributes to a perception by the public that things are out of control and headed in the wrong direction. But second, it inhibits the political viability of any near-term fiscal policy to improve the economy through spending or tax cuts. And with a weak economy forecast through next year, the high levels of deficit spending are likely to continue.”

The abject failure of liberal economic dogma has left the Democrats and left-wing pundits such as Ezra Klein baffled. (“I’ve never been able to come up with a realistic scenario in which a lot more got done, the economy is in much better shape, and the president is dramatically more popular today.” No doubt.) But of course, the Keynesian lens through which they view the economy distorts reality. The regulations they applauded (Dodd-Frank, Obamacare) paralyzed employers. The constant threat of tax hikes inhibits investment and hiring. The borrowing with one hand and spending with the other did not, it turns out, possess the magic multiplier to increase economic activity.

For conservative critics who never accepted the premise of the Keynesian multiplier and worried about loading obligations on the private sector, it is hardly surprising that we have the worst of all worlds: slow growth, anemic job creation and massive debt.

In his State of the Union response back in January, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) had it pegged:

We face a crushing burden of debt. The debt will soon eclipse our entire economy, and grow to catastrophic levels in the years ahead. . . . No economy can sustain such high levels of debt and taxation. The next generation will inherit a stagnant economy and a diminished country. . . .
There is no doubt the President came into office facing a severe fiscal and economic situation.
Unfortunately, instead of restoring the fundamentals of economic growth, he engaged in a stimulus spending spree that not only failed to deliver on its promise to create jobs, but also plunged us even deeper into debt.
The facts are clear: Since taking office, President Obama has signed into law spending increases of nearly 25 percent for domestic government agencies — an 84 percent increase when you include the failed stimulus.
All of this new government spending was sold as “investment.” Yet after two years, the unemployment rate remains above 9% and government has added over $3 trillion to our debt.

Now it’s up to $4 trillion.

The White House’s assertion that credible economists “all agreed” with Obama’s approach was untrue, and many doubters are now stepping forward to sound the alarm. The Associated Press reported:

The majority of economists surveyed by the National Association for Business Economics believe that the federal deficit should be reduced only or primarily through spending cuts.
The survey out Monday found that 56 percent of the NABE members surveyed felt that way, while 37 percent said they favor equal parts spending cuts and tax increases. The remaining 7 percent believe it should be done only or mostly through tax increases.
As for how to reduce the deficit, nearly 40 percent said the best way would be to contain Medicare and Medicaid costs. Nearly a quarter recommended overhauling the tax system and simplifying tax rates and exemptions. About 15 percent said the government should enact tough spending caps and cut discretionary spending.

But the Obama team seems intent on increasing spending now, promising that future Congresses will curb spending and holding tax hikes over the heads of already unnerved investors and employers on whom we are relying to generate new jobs.

The record-setting pace of debt accumulation threatens to make Obama’s upcoming job speech (which promises to be heavy on spending plans) appear ludicrous. How much more “investment” can we take? The sagging growth projections, if borne out, will send his political fortunes (along with the economy) skidding. For liberals it is a time of cognitive dissonance (so much spending but the economy stinks), and for Obama it is a time of reckoning. For conservatives it is an opportunity to make their case for an alternative approach to the economy. They should select their standard bearer wisely.

By  |  09:45 AM ET, 08/23/2011

Categories:  2012 campaign, Economy

 
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