This debt was made for you and me.

Continued from a previous post

Of course, that’s a take on a classic Woody Guthrie song. From Google:

This land is your land and this land is my land
From California to the New York island
From the redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me

What got all this kicked off was an exchange on Facebook a few days back. It went like this. A Facebook friend posted a cartoon from the Allen West account. The cartoon showed President Obama promising to take action against gun violence, all the while ignoring a child chained to a ball labeled The Debt. The inference was that the president was responsible for, and was leaving the child saddled with, increased debt. My take. Here is how the remainder of the exchange went, with images and extraneous text removed:

John Blanton The cartoon is dead on. What a succinct statement. However, the cartoonist placed the wrong president in the picture. And besides, I don’t recall such a statement from President Bush.

Jim Medding Really? Bush’s fault? Get over it John Blanton. What has Obama actively done to reduce the debt?

John Blanton Actually, my conversation is about the real winner in the debt contest. President Bush’s administration instigated a war based on trumped up motivation that is expected to finish out at $1.7 trillion. And it was mostly “put on the credit card.” Meaning it was mostly added to the national debt.
For a follow-up I will do a skeptical analysis comparing the Bush and Obama administrations and their impact on the national debt. Watch for it next week. Currently Barbara and I are in Spain, preparing to return on Monday.

John Blanton Wait. Wait! I just noticed this cartoon is shared from Allen West’s site. Talk about a reliable source!
I have to thank you for reminding me of ex-congressman West. He is one of my favorites. I need to reconnect with him.

Jim Medding You avoided my question – What has Obama actively done to reduce the debt? I could care less if your “skeptical” analysis puts Obama on the hero hill and Bush in the trash bin of history. Obama has had seven years to produce results so you should be able to enumerate a nice long list.

John Blanton Aww, you knew I wouldn’t be able to respond with a bullet-point list. Here is some analysis.…/this-debt-is-your…/

Jim Medding What I read in your posting is that, the deficit is shrinking because the economy is improving. You’re doing the same thing that folks who promote Bill Clinton as a great president do by pointing out how great the economy was during his administration. As you must be aware, much of what happens in the economy is outside of the control of any administration. This is why I asked you what did he *actively* do to reduce the debt. I can wait until you’ve returned to the good old USA for a bullet point list. In the mean time, stay away from the running of the bulls, I hear it’s not very safe.

So that’s how it has remained since last week. I am now back from vacation and have cleared a few items off my plate. I can address a few of the points from the Facebook dialogue.

Read the above. My original response concerned the cartoon. The cartoonist is Jake Fuller. He is a political cartoonist of prodigious output, and his targets are varied and widely-spread. They do not always include Democrats or liberals. He is an equal opportunity insulter. Here are some additional samples of his work:


This one shows presidential candidate Hillary Clinton with blood on her hands from the Benghazi debacle, and she is declaring victory because the congressional committee investigating her role in the affair was unable to come up with anything incriminating.


More on Clinton’s complicity in the deaths of Americans in the Benghazi embassy attacks.


This one shows President Obama favoring cop-hating protesters.

All that aside, my original response was that Fuller missed the mark in placing President Obama in the cartoon with the kid chained to the debt. It should have been President George W. Bush, whose unjustified and mismanaged war added $1.7 trillion to the debt, since no provision was made for paying for it. I failed to mention that $1.7 trillion is likely the low-ball estimate. Other computations show a far gloomier picture. For a point of reference. the $1.7 trillion number comes from the Congressional Budget Office:

At the request of Chairman Spratt, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has totaled the funding provided through fiscal year 2007 for military and diplomatic operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and other activities associated with the war on terrorism, as well as for related costs incurred by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for medical care, disability compensation, and survivors’ benefits. In addition to totaling the funding provided to date, CBO has projected the total cost over the next 10 years of funding operations in support of the war on terrorism under two scenarios specified by the Chairman. Those scenarios are meant to serve as an illustration of the budgetary impact of two different courses in the war on terrorism but are not intended to be a prediction of what will occur.

Including both funding provided through 2007 and projected funding under the two illustrative scenarios, total spending for U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and other activities related to the war on terrorism would amount to between $1.2 trillion and $1.7 trillion for fiscal years 2001 through 2017 (see Table 1).1 A final section of this testimony briefly compares parts of CBO’s estimate to a frequently cited estimate prepared by two academic researchers, Linda Bilmes and Joseph Stiglitz.

President Obama would have had to do some serious pedaling to crank up that kind of number during the first seven years of his administration. Of course, he still has nearly a year to go. There is still time.

In fact, as I mentioned in my previous post, the current administration has produced a decrease in the budget deficit. Jim rightly responded: “You avoided my question – What has Obama actively done to reduce the debt?” Of course the matter at hand was really about who is responsible for the greatest bulge in the debt, Bush or Obama. Jim has tacitly yielded that point and now wants to know what the President has done to reduce the debt. Jim, again rightly, notes that the Obama administration has seen the deficit shrink due to a red-hot economy and consequent tax revenues rolling in. Neither President Obama nor any other president gets out on the street and pumps up the economy. The President does not have the power to do that. The President cannot even control spending with any certainty. Only the Congress can pass spending and tax legislation, the two items that bear strongest on the deficit. What has the President done? What can he do?

Not much, actually. Principally what President Obama has “done” is something he did not do. He did not sally forth into a misguided war and incur an additional $trillion or more in unfunded expenses. Along those lines, there are a number of things the President did do that increased the deficit. These are things the President can do, and presidents sometimes do. He made war.

  • One day a few years ago the American military, at President Obama’s direction, let loose a salvo of 103 Tomahawk missiles against the government of Libya. At a cost of maybe $1.5 million per, that display of fireworks must have brought great joy at the place where Jim works (and so have I) in Tucson, Arizona.
  • Subsequent to that, President Obama has seen fit to employ our military might against what he terms a “JV team” in Iraq and Syria. Most of the guided munitions employed are produced at the same place in Arizona as the Tomahawks, and the good news out there is that this onslaught has drawn down our stockpiles of guided munitions, requiring additional orders to be placed. You may feel the tug on your wallet.

So, there are a number of things the President is doing to increase the deficit, and by extension the debt. Has the President taken any action that will result in a reduction in the deficit? Only a few things.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is a piece of legislation promoted by President Obama. Getting it passed by Congress involved a great political effort by the President, but it was passed and put into law with his signature in 2010. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated the effects of the act will be positive for the government budget (less debt):

What Would Be the Major Effects of Repealing the ACA?


CBO and JCT estimate that repealing the ACA would have several major effects, relative to the projections under current law:

  • Including the budgetary effects of macroeconomic feedback, repealing the ACA would increase federal budget deficits by $137 billion over the 2016–2025 period. That estimate takes into account the proposal’s impact on federal revenues and direct (or mandatory) spending, incorporating the net effects of two components:
    • Excluding the effects of macroeconomic feedback—as has been done for previous estimates related to the ACA (and most other CBO cost estimates)—CBO and JCT estimate that federal deficits would increase by $353 billion over the 2016–2025 period if the ACA was repealed.
    • Repeal of the ACA would raise economic output, mainly by boosting the supply of labor; the resulting increase in GDP is projected to average about 0.7 percent over the 2021–2025 period. Alone, those effects would reduce federal deficits by $216 billion over the 2016–2025 period, CBO and JCT estimate, mostly because of increased federal revenues.

Of course this report by the CBO only tells what would happen if the current law were repealed. There is no mention about the impact if the law had never been enacted. However, a 30,000-foot view provides these thoughts to reflect on:

  • The ACA will result in more people obtaining insurance coverage for medical expenses, resulting in more people obtaining timely medical care.
  • More people obtaining timely medical care will result in fewer people suffering from debilitating illness. This will result in fewer lost work days due to illness, and that will result in higher work productivity and a more robust economy.
  • People receiving medical care under their insurance plans (made available by the ACA) will not resort to emergency room treatment for routine illnesses, a cost savings at the local government level. Traditionally local governments (states, counties, cities) provide medical care to indigent patients. Having more people covered by medical insurance will result in less community reliance on subsidies from the federal government.
  • Timely medical treatment (as a result of patients having medical insurance) will reduce the incidence of minor medical problems turning into major medical problems. It is expected that treatment for major medical problems produce a greater draw on the economy and are something to avoid for that reason if for no other.

In agreement with the Fuller cartoon in question, the Obama administration really is proposing legislation that will add to the federal deficit. Here is one example of the President’s proposed increase in government spending:

President’s Budget Request
Fiscal Year 2016:

The 2016 Budget and 2017 Advance Appropriations requests for VA fulfill the President’s promise to provide America’s Veterans, their families, and Survivors the care and benefits they have earned through their service.

The President’s 2016 Budget includes $168.8 billion for VA in 2016.  This includes $70.2 billion in discretionary resources and $95.3 billion in mandatory funding.  Our discretionary budget request represents an increase of $5.2 billion, or 7.5 percent, over the 2015 enacted level.

All that aside, Jim has stated a significant point: “You avoided my question – What has Obama actively done to reduce the debt? I could care less if your ‘skeptical’ analysis puts Obama on the hero hill and Bush in the trash bin of history.” Some response is needed.

Regarding my skeptical analysis putting President Obama “on the hero hill” and putting President Bush “in the trash bin of history,” that is not what my skeptical analysis does nor is it intended to do. First, I have no inclination to put the President on a “hero hill” of any sort. He’s a big guy and can take care of himself. He does not need any boost from me. Additionally, anything I do or say will not put former President Bush in a “trash bin of history.” President Bush’s current and future position in the historical record is the consequence of his actions while in office and also the actions of the people he had working for him. The only comment I made in my original analysis concerning President Bush was his impact on the current federal debt.

Regarding a bullet point list, since I never signed up for that, none will be forthcoming.

And yes, I did stay away from the running of the bulls in Spain. I think January was not the season for that, and even if it were, I am not now and likely never was a candidate for the sport. I may watch it on TV.

Thanks for reading. This blog requires critical response in order to be pertinent. Readers with something lengthy and significant to say are invited to submit their thoughts in the form of a guest post.


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