What’s behind the fiscal mess

Federal policymakers, who would ideally be focused on job creation and economic growth, are spending an enormous amount of time discussing deficit reduction. If this is going to be the center of attention, it’s at least worth recognizing how the budget mess was created. Indeed, it should be common sense — to close a budget shortfall, we should know what’s causing the budget shortfall.

Republicans have obviously made up their minds on this. The nation’s fiscal problems, they assure us, are the result of excessive government spending. To blame Bush-era irresponsibility, the GOP argues, is “insanity.” This is clearly Obama’s fault, they say.

I’m very much inclined to agree that holding people accountable is a responsible thing to do, which is why I was glad to see the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities update its chart detailing the factors that are driving today’s deficits, and projected deficits going forward.

The facts are hard to ignore and impossible to dispute. As the CBPP’s report explained, “[T]he economic downturn, President Bush’s tax cuts and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq explain virtually the entire deficit over the next ten years.”

We’re on track to have $20 trillion in debt by 2019, and nearly half of that total will come from Bush-era tax cuts and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And yet, those who are complaining the loudest about the fiscal picture are also saying that ending any of the Bush-era tax cuts is simply out of the question. The political establishment still struggles to label such nonsense “unserious.”

If our discourse was in any way sane, we’d acknowledge some of these basic truths. Republicans inherited a massive surplus a decade ago, when we were on track to eliminate the national debt entirely. Instead, they slashed taxes, fought two wars, and expanded the government’s role in health care — without paying for any of it. The GOP handed President Obama a $1.3 trillion deficit, and said, “Now clean this up.”

Looking ahead, we know exactly what’s driving the large deficits over the next decade, but those same Republicans who created the mess (a) are lying about the driving factor; and (b) taking sensible deficit-reduction ideas “off the table.”

If credibility and accountability had any role in the process whatsoever, GOP leaders would be laughed out of the room.