I’ve always thought that alarmist talk about the federal budget deficit was largely partisan posturing, and I’m not all that worked up about deficits we will obviously incur in the years ahead. But I was struck this morning when Barack Obama candidly and unapologetically said his stimulus plan will expand the federal budget deficit.
There will be no shortage of conservatives and libertarians who jump all over the Obama Administration’s spending for the next several months. But where are all the self-appointed Democratic budget hawks who have been shouting “fire” these last eight years?
Remember Alice Rivlin, Clinton’s budget chief? A year ago she told the Washington Post that Bush’s legacy “is having blown an opportunity to ameliorate the long-run budget deficits.” Two years earlier, Brookings budget watchdog Isabel Sawhill was even more dramatic when she complained about “bequeathing a fiscal mess of biblical proportions.”
Paul Krugman saw the federal deficit as a character flaw: “As a drunk is to alcohol, the Bush administration is to budget deficits,” he wrote in 2003. Apparently the argument hasn’t lost any of its freshness. Only a few months ago, Thomas Friedman was still making the same case. “Under George W. Bush, America has foisted onto future generations a huge financial burden to finance our current tax cuts, wars and now bailouts,” he intoned. It’s not just the liberal columnists, either. Remember how Tim Russert used to trot out his Bush deficit chart to embarrass whatever Republican was foolish enough to go on his show. Or look back at this sanctimonious conversation between Pete Peterson and CNN’s resident blowhard Jack Cafferty.
Finding these angry, self-righteous condemnations of the Bush budget deficits is like shooting fish in a barrel. Just Google “mortgaging our children’s future,” “assault on our grandchildren,” “burdening future generations” or any of the other favorite hackneyed phrases used by the Bush haters who transformed themselves into pious priests of austerity during the past eight years.
The obvious question: how much will we hear from them in the coming year? Are they wringing their hands about the budget consequences of the Obama? If so, they are doing it very quietly.