Mistake of the Day

MISTAKE OF THE DAY…. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R) of Utah argued yesterday that the discouraging long-term deficit figures are a serious problem — that shouldn’t be blamed on a certain former president. “It’s not George W. Bush’s fault,” Chaffetz said, adding that “this ‘credit card Congress’ bears responsibility.”

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That’s one way to look at it, but let’s also note reality. The Center for American Progress’ Michael Ettlinger and Michael Linden took a closer look at the mid-season review and explains that the “real story is … fairly obvious.”

From their report: “The policies of the Bush administration, which included tax cuts during a time of war and a floundering economy, are clearly the primary source of the current deficits. The Obama administration policies that are beginning to give the economy a needed jumpstart — the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in particular — place a distant third in contributing to the 2009 and 2010 deficit numbers.”

Even Chaffetz should be able to understand this. Bush approved tax cuts, but didn’t pay for them. Bush expanded Medicare, but didn’t pay for it. Bush launched two expensive wars, but didn’t pay for them. Bush took a quarter-trillion-dollar surplus, and then handed off a $1.3 trillion deficit to his successor. “It’s not George W. Bush’s fault”? C’mon.

The Ettlinger/Linden analysis found that 40% of the fiscal deterioration we’re seeing — the single largest contributing factor — can be attributed to Bush policies. Another 12% comes from Bush’s financial rescues, while 20% are the result of the economic crisis.

What’s President Obama’s share? Just 16% of the total, most of which is the result of new spending that was necessary to prevent a depression.

Chaffetz wants to make sure Bush isn’t held responsible for the budget mess. He’s a shallow partisan, so that’s predictable. But if Bush isn’t to blame, I suppose Chaffetz would have us believe that lawmakers who backed Bush’s policies are to blame?

Chaffetz, in other words, is pinning the budget mess on his Republican colleagues. He probably hasn’t thought this one through.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.