Presidents can go while their policies linger

PRESIDENTS CAN GO WHILE THEIR POLICIES LINGER…. Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.), who’s struggled a bit in his first year on the job, held a town-hall meeting last night, and heard from plenty of folks who weren’t pleased with his vote on the House Republican budget plan.

There was one part of the story, though, that jumped out at me. After some locals complained about Grimm voting to end Medicare, another voter complained that Bush-era policies are largely responsible for the 2011 deficit.

Former President George W. Bush was one of the evening’s frequent scapegoats, prompting Mr. Grimm, at one point, to ask: “This year’s deficit is due to George Bush? That’s insanity! That’s insane.”

Later, he turned to the reporters in the room, as if looking for support.

“I want the press to document this,” he said. “The reason that the Democratic house, the Democratic senate, and the president, who’s a Democrat, and his name was President Barack Obama, not President George Bush. They didn’t pass a budget or pass any plan to stop our debt crisis because of George Bush? It was because of George Bush?!”

I can appreciate why this might resonate with some folks. Bush left office more than two years ago, so it may seem as if today’s problems no longer have anything to do with him. Grimm, who routinely struggles to understand the basics of current events, was incredulous about this, and I suspect plenty of Republicans agree.

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But the argument is not “insane” at all. In fact, it just requires a little thought and some rudimentary understanding of how reached the current mess.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities recently explained that, despite the rhetoric, the “fact remains” that “together with the economic downturn, the Bush tax cuts and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq explain virtually the entire deficit over the next ten years.”

When Bush left office, he left behind a deficit a little over $1.3 trillion. He also left behind an economic crisis, which required some spending to address. What’s more, he also left behind a series of policies — two wars and a Medicare expansion, for example — that Republicans made no effort to pay for, and which continue to add to the deficit.

As the CBPP noted, “The events and policies that have pushed deficits to these high levels in the near term, however, were largely outside the [Obama] Administration’s control.” The report added that the nation “must come to grips with the nation’s long-term deficit problem. But we should not mistake the causes of our predicament.”

I realize Grimm must find this confusing. Indeed, he thinks there’s a “debt crisis,” which only helps reinforce the fear that the congressman is struggling with the basics.

But what the congressman should try to understand is that a president’s policies can linger for a while, even after that president leaves office. Grimm doesn’t have to like it, but calling the truth “insane” doesn’t make it false.