Tax cuts

Stimulus

Wars

Votes that pushed us into the red

In the debate over the nation's rising debt, rhetoric trumps reality. In January 2001, the U.S. budget was balanced for the first time in decades and the Congressional Budget Office was forecasting surpluses totaling $5.6 trillion by 2011. A decade later, the national debt is larger, as a percentage of the economy, than at any time in U.S. history except for the period shortly after World War II.

So what happened?

The impact of three policies
on the federal debt

Shown as a percent of GDP

Debt without tax cuts, stimulus and wars

In classic Washington style, neither party wants to take responsibility. “Washington has a spending problem, not a revenue problem,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said in April.

“Republicans made the contradictory promises that cutting taxes would lead to higher revenues and would force lower spending,” House Minority Leader Steny Hoyer shot back in a speech later the same month. “They did neither.”

The reality falls somewhere in between. In fact, 75 percent of the members currently serving in Congress voted for at least one — and in most cases more than one — of three policies that contributed to fully one-third of the $12.7 trillion swing from projected surpluses to real debt: President George W. Bush's 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, funding for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and President Obama's 2009 stimulus bill.

A new take on the overlapping priorities that led us to record deficits, and who voted for them.

  • House
  • Senate

Roll over for names of the 310 members who voted for these measures that remain in the House



Voted only for wars
(Voted for at least two supplemental appropriations bills to fund the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq during Bush's last two years in office or Obama's first two years.)

Voted only
for stimulus
(Voted for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, also known as the stimulus bill.)

Voted for wars
and stimulus

Voted only for
tax cuts
(Voted for at least one of the two tax-cut measures enacted in 2001 and 2003, known as the Bush tax cuts.)

Voted for wars
and tax cuts

None

Voted for
stimulus
and tax cuts

None

Voted for
all three
policies

Voted only for wars

Bachmann“Our troops in combat deserve to be sent the resources and the
reinforcements
that they
deserve to succeed
in their mission in
Iraq without strings and
without delay.”
- Michelle Bachmann
(R-Minn.), April 25, 2007
(Was not in office
during tax-cut votes)

Ryan“What we are simply saying is that rather than take your money and find new ways to spend it for you here in Washington, we want to give it back to the American people.”
- Paul Ryan (R-Wis.),
May 16, 2001

Ron Paul (R-Tex.)                                          



Paul “My commitment to voters is simple: I follow the Constitution and I fight to make government smaller. This committment compels me to vote for all tax cuts and against all spending increases.”
March 30, 2001

Rick Larsen (D-Wash.)



Larsen “This legislation is not a cure-all, and our country faces difficult times ahead. But the need for aggressive action is clear to shorten the recession and lessen its impact on the American economy.”
Jan. 28, 2009

Roll over for names of the 86 current senators who voted for these measures



Voted only for wars
(Voted for at least two supplemental appropriations bills to fund the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq during Bush's last two years in office or in Obama's first two years.)

Voted only
for stimulus
(Voted for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, also known as the stimulus bill.)

None

Voted for wars
and stimulus

Voted only for
tax cuts
(Voted for at least one of the two tax-cut measures enacted in 2001 and 2003, known as the Bush tax cuts.)

Voted for wars
and tax cuts

Voted for
stimulus
and tax cuts

None

None

Voted for
all three
policies

Voted only for wars

Sanders
“This jolt to the economy will help us recover from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.”
- Bernard Sanders
(I-Vt.), Feb. 13, 2009

McConnell “This bill is about righting wrongs in the tax code that are so flagrant as to transcend partisan rancor...I am proud to say that I believe that this surplus belongs to the American people.”
- Mitch McConnell
(R-Ky.), May 26, 2001

Jim DeMint (R-S.C.)                                        



DeMint “Democrats will attempt to end the Bush tax cuts. Doing so violates the rights of individuals to keep their hard-earned money, and it hurts free enterprise.”
March 1, 1007

Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.)



Dianne Feinstein “It seemed an appropriate time to return some of that surplus to taxpayers, just as a business would do when that business was doing well.”
May 14, 2003

SOURCE: Pew Fiscal Analysis Initiative, Washington Post Congressional Database.
GRAPHIC: Karen Yourish, Laura Stanton, Hannah Fairfield and Kat Downs - The Washington Post.
Serdar Tumgoren contributed to this report. Published June 4, 2011.