Levees Not War
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2001 Bush Tax Cuts: Where the Deficit Began

07/20/11

Those intrepid researchers at Think Progress have dug up a headline from Aug. 1, 2001—almost exactly 10 years ago—that shows the long-bleeding fiscal damage done by the Bush tax cuts. Only six months into his first term, after George W. Bush inherited a budget surplus from Democratic president Bill Clinton and Congress passed a $1.35 trillion, 10-year tax cut, the AP reported that “the Treasury Department was tapping $51 billion of credit in order to pay for the budgetary cost of the first round of Bush tax cuts’ rebate checks.”

This headline might have been useful in 2010, when extension of the Bush tax cuts was being avoided by timid congressional Democrats before the midterm elections, and then, afterward, steamrolled to passage by Tea Party–drunken Republicans over a passive Conciliator-in-Chief to the tune of “Kumbaya for Billionaires.” Think Progress observes, “The opponents of the tax cut turned out to be right. The 2001 and 2003 tax cuts combined have blown a $2.5 trillion hole in America’s budget and created deficits stretching on for years.”

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Republican-led White House, Congress Built This Deficit

How was it looking four years later? Projections released by the Congressional Budget Office in January 2005 showed that “changes in law” enacted since January 2001 had increased the deficit by $539 billion. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that “in the absence of such legislation, the nation would have a surplus this year” (our emphasis). Tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003 accounted for nearly half of the revenue shortfall (see chart below). Although the deficit was blamed on “runaway domestic spending” or growth in the costs of entitlement programs (sound familiar?), in fact by January 2005 tax cuts and defense + homeland security expenditures accounted for 85% of the deficit.

 


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