It can be instructive to look at the results of the policies of both President Bush and President Obama and compare them side by side. One common criticism of President Obama is his administration’s spending habits. When he recently claimed that “Federal spending since I took office has risen at the slowest pace of any president in almost 60 years,” CNS News and many other outlets fact checked the claim and found it to be untrue. In fact, a chart from USgovernmentspending.com shows that, as a percentage of GDP, President Obama’s spending is at a higher level than at any other time in our history except World War II. While spending did increase slowly under most of George W. Bush’s tenure, it was only in 2008, when TARP was enacted, that it jumped sharply.
A closer look shows that, according to figures from the Tax Policy Center, President Bush ran a deficit for all but the first year of his administration. As a percentage of GDP, Bush’s average deficit was about 2 percent. In dollars, Bush averaged deficits of about $251 billion per year. In contrast, in President Obama’s three years, he has averaged deficits of more than nine percent. In each year of his administration, the federal deficit has been more than $1 trillion. Obama’s average deficit in dollars was $1.33 trillion.
When viewing the data from the Tax Policy Center, it is easy to see why deficits increased so rapidly under President Obama. Even as President Obama was increasing federal spending with his various attempts at stimulus, tax revenues were falling due to the recession. Since spending increased at the same time that the government was taking in less money, the difference had to be made up in borrowing.
Borrowing leads to an increasing federal debt. It is true that the debt increased dramatically under George W. Bush. On January 1, 2001, just before President Bush took office, the federal debt stood at $5.6 trillion according to U.S. Treasury figures. When he left office on January 20, 2009, the debt stood at $10.6 trillion, an increase of almost five trillion dollars. As of June 1, 2012, the federal debt was at $15.7 trillion, an increase of $5.1 trillion. The federal debt has increased by as much under President Obama in three years as it did under Bush in eight. CNS News noted in October 2011 that President Obama had added more debt than all other presidents from George Washington to George Herbert Walker Bush.
The difference is even more stark if the election of 2006 is considered to be the dividing line. In 2006, Democrats took control of both houses of Congress. At the beginning of 2007, as the new Democrats took office, the debt was at $8.6 trillion, which means that three trillion dollars was amassed by President Bush and congressional Republicans. It also means that a staggering $7.1 trillion was borrowed by the Democrats from 2007 through 2012. A chart from USgovernmentspending.com illustrates how radically government spending increased after 2006, when Senator Harry Reid and Rep. Nancy Pelosi assumed control of Congress.
Democrats argue that deficit spending was needed to combat the 2008 recession, but what did taxpayers get for their money? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment averaged 5.26 percent during the Bush years. The average during the Obama years was 9.26 percent.
Even more telling is the fact that the Civilian Labor Force Participation Rate, the percentage of Americans working, has declined from 67.2 percent in January 2001 to 65.7 in January 2009 and to 63.8 percent in May 2012. According to Multpl.com, the U.S. population increased in each of those years, from 285 million in 2001 to 306 million in 2009. The U.S. population now stands at 313 million according to the U.S. Census. This means that fewer total Americans are working now than when President Obama took office even though the population has increased by 7 million. When President Bush left office 20.1 million Americans were working. Today only 19.9 million are in spite of a population growth of seven million.
Even though the Great Recession officially ended in June 2009, five months into Obama’s presidency and three years ago, the economy and the job markets have not recovered. By many measures, the economy is worse today than it was three years ago. The Federal Reserve announced last week that American wealth had decreased by 40 percent between 2007 and 2011. Home prices, which crashed in 2008, have not recovered and continue to decline in many markets. The Wall St. Journal reports that economists are “increasingly pessimistic” and more are predicting that the stagnant recovery will turn into another recession.
Foreign policy was an area where President Bush faced intense criticism. The 9/11 attacks, along with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, were the defining events of his time in office. President Obama campaigned against the wars and Bush policies such as the detention of terrorists at Guantanamo Bay. Three years later, the prison there remains open. Many leftists decried Bush’s “illegal wars” in Iraq and Afghanistan even though he sought and obtained congressional approval. President Obama did not notify Congress or seek approval before intervening in Libya.
In fact, Obama has quietly adopted a defense policy that is similar to that of President Bush. Perhaps the biggest difference is George W. Bush’s policy of capturing and interrogating terrorists where Obama primarily targets them from afar with drones. Obama’s personal involvement in targeting terrorists is reminiscent of President Lyndon Johnson’s personal involvement in selecting targets – and placing others off limits - during the Vietnam War. Obama did remove all but a token force of U.S. troops from Iraq, but American forces remain in Afghanistan. Perhaps this, along with his reluctance to embrace uprisings in Muslim countries, is why many Arab countries have an even more negative view of the United States under Obama than they did under President Bush according to Pew Global.
With respect to Iran, President Obama’s record is mixed. Obama resisted toughening sanctions on Iran until he was mandated by Congress. Obama also continued Bush’s program of cyber attacks against the Iranian nuclear program, but leaks from his administration detailing these and other intelligence matters have hurt U.S. interests. Breaches of security from the administration may have led to the life sentence for treason of Shakil Afridi, a doctor in Pakistan who helped the CIA determine bin Laden’s location.
Perhaps the greatest missed opportunity of the Obama era was the president’s failure to capitalize on the 2009 Green Revolution uprising in Iran. A secret memo obtained by the Washington Examiner reveals that leaders of the dissidents had requested American help in toppling the regime. President Obama failed to act and, as a result, the Iranian government is growing ever closer to becoming a nuclear power.
President Obama’s greatest triumph, foreign policy or domestic, was undoubtedly the killing of Osama bin Laden, yet if Obama had his way the programs that generated much of the intelligence that led to bin Laden’s whereabouts would have been closed down years ago. As Real Clear Politics explains, the enhanced interrogation techniques used during the Bush Administration uncovered much of the intelligence that led to bin Laden. Obama should get credit for issuing the order to attack, but President Bush should also get credit for making the attack possible.
Liberals charge that Bush’s defense and war spending is what led to the massive federal debt. A chart from USgovernmentspending.com does show that defense spending in total dollars increased under President Bush, but it has also continued to increase under President Obama. However, between 2002 and 2008, defense spending as a percentage of GDP remained between four and five percent under President Bush. Total defense dollars and defense spending as a percentage of GDP both increased under President Obama. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, defense spending makes up 20 percent of the federal budget and is dwarfed by Social Security, Medicare, other safety net programs and interest on the federal debt, which together account for 60 percent of the budget.
As Americans head to the polls this November, President Obama is unlikely to ask, “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” as President Reagan famously did in 1984. Three years after the official end of the Great Recession, President Obama and his policies deserve the blame for the lack of recovery. Obama has yet to offer any new tactic that has not been tried previously without success. On foreign policy, Obama’s position has evolved, but he has displayed little desire to take strong and decisive action, resulting in many missed opportunities.
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