Remembering the Good Ole Days, When We Were Prosperous

By Richard Thayer

With the possible exception of Donald Trump, it’s been a relatively quiet two weeks in and around the nation’s capital. I hope you enjoyed the relative serenity because that is about to come to an end as our lawmakers, newly invigorated after a two week recess, come charging back into Congress this week to argue whether or not to raise the infamous “debt ceiling.”

To hear the Republicans talk you would think that our current financial predicament is the result of the Democrats in general and President Obama in particular. And, unfortunately, there are those among us who have swallowed this hook, line and sinker.

There is an excellent article in the Sunday (May 1) Washington Post that does an admirable job of tracing our current economic tsunami back to its source. The article is based on data gathered by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and analysis of that data by the Pew Fiscal Analysis Initiative. It is something the Republican leadership, the Tea Party and their followers do not want to hear and, with hands firmly over their ears, refuse to hear. But here it is—

According to the CBO’s findings, we began our financial downhill slalom run 10 years ago. And it was the result of a choice, not a crisis.

Let’s see now, who was in charge 10 years ago? Why, that would be our good buddy, George W. Bush.

It’s hard to tell now because of all that’s happened over the last decade, but, believe it or not, back in January of 2001 our finances were in great shape. Everything was hunky-dory.  As a matter of fact things looked so good that the CBO forecast that by the end of the decade we would have enough money to pay off our debt. We would have a surplus of around $2 trillion dollars, enough to pay off all our debts. We would be foot-loose and fancy-free by 2011!

But somewhere along the way we hit a detour and we’ve been on it ever since. And it looks like we may never see the main road ever again.

What caused the detour?

Well, for one thing there was that “weapons of mass destruction” story that got us into a war, that and the war on the terrorists that were behind the horrific tragedy behind 9/11. As you may recall there was a lot of patriotic fervor back then (a fervor that has somewhat diminished over the years). And as you will also recall, that one war eventually split into two.

In 2001 we were rolling in dough, we had plenty of money and our financial forecast was calling for sunny skies.

Shortly thereafter the clouds began to roll in.

The 2000 presidential campaign focused on what we should do with the excess money. Gore wanted to put it into things like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security due primarily to the fact that a lot of baby boomers, like everyone else before them, were going to become senior citizens. Lots of them.

Bush, on the other hand had a “better idea.” He pushed for a very large tax cut, arguing that taxpayers were owed a refund. And, believe it or not, that proved to be very popular. Hurray! We’re going to get money back. Who wouldn’t like that idea? The Post article says that despite warnings against such a move, Congress approved a “$1.35 trillion tax cut in record time.”

Throughout his administration, Bush continued to cut taxes while increasing spending. Even people like me who can’t balance a checkbook know that’s not the way you build up the Treasury.

Together, the economy and the tax bills that were passed by Congress and zealously approved by W., completely erased $6.3 trillion in anticipated revenue. Our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq added $1.3 trillion in new borrowing.

This house of cards finally started falling during the last year of W.’s presidency. Now, instead of amassing a $2 trillion surplus as was forecast before 2001, we’re now faced with an awe-inspiring $10 trillion deficit.

And now the CBO, with a used crystal ball (they can’t afford a new one), are forecasting huge deficits from now until the end of eternity. As the Post article put it, “essentially forever.”

So, in case you had forgotten or never knew, that’s where the real problem began and how we got detoured. Remember that this week when you hear Republicans railing against raising the debt ceiling and blaming the Democrats for the pickle we’re in.

Personally, it’s hard for me to believe in a party’s “Path to Prosperity” when their previous path led us into the swamp we currently find ourselves in up to our necks. And that’s not even counting the crocodiles.


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