Obama can’t blame deficits on the wars or the Bush tax cuts

By Tom Quiner

It happened again this morning.

A letter writer to the Des Moines Register blamed our deficits on the Bush tax cuts and the two wars launched in response to 9/11.

In other words, the deficits are Bush’s fault and Obama is simply cleaning up his mess is his contention.

Here’s the letter:

“University of Maryland economist Peter Morici tried to give us a lesson on our current budget deficit (“History Lessons on Romney vs.Obama Choice,” Sept. 6). He summarizes the problem as one perpetrated by the recent Obama administration. Somehow he’s left out the most glaring facts.

He says we went from healthy surpluses at the end of the Clinton era to nine straight years of deficits. But a couple of key indicators are missing, beginning with the Bush-era tax cuts and ending with the incredible amounts spent on that administration’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

If we had all the trillions of dollars back that were grifted from us to pay for the Bush escapades, our insanely huge deficit wouldn’t be the issue it is today.

Recent attempts by the current administration to start to right the floundering ship have been stonewalled by a partisan Congress hell bent on political gain instead of working together to get the ball rolling.”

Note the word “grifted,”suggesting that someone the productive (aka “the rich”) stole money from this guy. In reality, the Bush tax cuts allowed producers to keep more of their own productivity instead of redistributing it to people like this letter writer.

This letter writer isn’t alone in making this claim. All kinds of voices on the left say the same.

Democratic Party strategist, James Carville, is blunt:

“It was under Mr Bush that the deficit spiralled out of control as we fought an unnecessary and endless $3,000bn war in Iraq…”

Writing in the Washington Post, Linda Bilmes (a member of Harvard’s faculty) and economist Joseph Stiglitz were even blunter:

“The Iraq adventure has seriously weakened the U.S. economy, whose woes now go far beyond loose mortgage lending. You can’t spend $3 trillion — yes, $3 trillion — on a failed war abroad and not feel the pain at home.”

Writing in The Nation, Christopher Hayes is bluntest:

“First, the facts. Nearly the entire deficit for this year and those projected into the near and medium terms are the result of three things: the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Bush tax cuts and the recession. The solution to our fiscal situation is: end the wars…”

The Iraq War certainly makes voices from the political Left emotional.  Fortunately, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has weighed in with a detailed financial analysis of he war’s cost.  It turns out the folks above were just plain misinformed.

It is certainly fair to argue if the fruits of our efforts were worth the tremendous cost to our nation.

Reasonable voices can debate if the removal of a mass-murdering dictator and the establishment of a democratically-elected government were worth it.

Reasonable voices can argue if the piece of mind knowing that the country truly is free of weapons of mass destruction are worth it.

The jury is still out on Iraq, and a healthy debate should continue on whether the price was worth it.

However, when it comes to deficits, the debate is over.  The CBO spells it out.  The war accounted for just 3.2% of federal government spending while it lasted.

Look at defense spending under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson in the 60s when it accounted for 46% of all federal spending.  Contrast that with Bush II when defense spending was less than 20% of federal outlays.

The chart above really lays it on the line.  The last year Republicans were in charge of the budget was 2007.  Deficits exploded after Democrats took over.  The biggest culprit is Obama’s stimulus package which will cost far more than the Iraq War ever did.

And for the record, we went to war with Iraq on the basis of bipartisan Congressional Iraq War Resolution (H.J. Res 114).  In the House, 82 Democrats voted to go to war; in the Senate, 29 Democrats voted to go to war.

The next time you hear an angry voice blaming our deficits on the Iraq War, tell them to talk to the non-partisan CBO.


  1. Bob Vance on September 10, 2012 at 5:59 pm

    Can you put a price on the people who died in the War in Iraq or Afghanistan? Having lost someone very close to my family, I can’t. [Another young man who I know well will be going to Afghanistan next month. I think of that alot.] How long will be paying for the Veterans who came back alive but in pieces?

    Compare that to how many have died because of the Stimulus?

    “Obama’s stimulus, passed in his first month in office, will cost more than the entire Iraq War.” PolitiFact finds this statement “Mostly False”.


    I have no idea if the stimulus did any good. Some claim it has. Some claim it hasn’t. Time will tell – maybe.

    I would like to ask the following:
    How are you personally better off because we fought in these two wars? Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction, and they had nothing to do with 911. How many other evil dictators our still out there?

    • quinersdiner on September 10, 2012 at 9:57 pm

      The value of every human life is beyond calculation. I am so sorry for your loss. I just came from a meeting where I heard two veterans of the Afghanistan conflict speak. They didn’t speculate if their efforts will make a difference or not. Time will tell if this U.N. sanctioned conflict makes a difference. Regarding Iraq, again time will tell. We got rid of a mass-murdering tyrant and determined that their WMDs had been destroyed. So those are two positives. Was it worth the loss of life? Was WWII worth the loss of life? Most would agree on the latter. The former requires time to see where history leads us.

  2. gatherdust on March 17, 2013 at 8:06 am

    Whether you’re delusional or simply a wingnut hack, you make two claims that conceal more than they reveal. The war’s share of GDP hasn’t been the issue but the way the war has been paid for – debt. And the peak year for appropriations for the war was 2008 – to pay for the surge. It doesn’t matter how solemn you may write about the war’s loss – though I doubt you care much about 100,000 Iraqis dead in your typed tears over the nearly 4500 Americans killed in Iraq. The bogus reasons for these reckless military escapades in the middle east and the tragedy over the massive loss of life will actually become less important as we spend the next decade or two reeling from the calamity we’ve created for ourselves. The views of people like you have pretty much pissed all over most of the tools we might need to solve the problem – this rabid Republican Party has successfully trashed public service, scapegoated government (and the poor, and the blacks, and the gays, and the women) for social problems people like you’ve spent decades exacerbating, and you’ve hamstrung public finance.

    It doesn’t matter whether Democrats signed on to Republican folly – the initiative was all GOP. It was Bush and the dark lord Cheney who sought to conquer Iraq and it was Bush, Cheney, and a Republican controlled Congress that engineered the military fiascoes as well as the creative accounting to pay for their war. It was Bush and the Republicans who had the bright idea that we should cut taxes right at the point that the US was embarking on the most expensive government program since Vietnam.

    I wish people like you would simply lower your head in shame. Instead you’re double down on the idiocy. That freak running North Korea has got nothing on American Republicans with their denial of reality and preference for fantasy.

    You put me off my morning coffee. Ugh.

    • quinersdiner on March 17, 2013 at 9:32 am

      Kind Sir, I recommend you take up your rant with the CBO who laid out the data. We do not have a revenue problem. It has remained more or less consistent with Obama vs. Bush. We have a spending problem under Team Obama. The Bush tax cuts and the two wars are not the root cause of the exploding deficits. Go back to your coffee. Thanks for writing.

  3. Marginalized on November 15, 2013 at 11:24 am

    Here’s the CBO’s opinion in a nice graph:

    CBO might not disagree with your cherry-picking statistics, but they would disagree with the title of your argument.