Tuesday, October 21, 2008

It's not the President's Debt

... if you want to blame just one person for deficit spending and the resulting monstrous debt, blame the Speaker of the House.

The US Constitution clearly lays out responsiblity for financial matters in the government in Article I, Section 8.
Section 8. The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States; but all duties, imposts and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;
As a practical matter, recent presidents have faced budgets that are so late in being passed that for the first few months of the fiscal year the government operates through continuing resolutions (CR). Under a CR, emergency funding is provided to operate the government because the full budget has yet to be passed. In such circumstances, the president's only practical tool in the budget process, the veto, is useless. No president is going to veto a budget that is already 3 months late getting to his desk. It's an act of legislative blackmail.

Here are the Speakers of the House over the last 30 years and the deficits or surpluses they ran in constant FY2000 dollars, in billions, rounded to the nearest billion. Surpluses are in green, deficits in red.

Tip O'Neill (D) - 1977-86: 136, 141, 89, 147, 142, 215, 333, 283, 313, 318

Jim Wright (D) - 1987-88: 210, 211

Tom Foley (D) - 1989-94: 200, 280, 327, 341, 292, 228

Newt Gingrich (R) - 1995-98: 180, 115, 23, 72

Denny Hastert (R) - 1999-2006: 129, 236, 125, 151, 353, 375, 279, 210

Nancy Pelosi (D) - 2007-2008: 162, 409

The only Speaker of the House to consistently reduce the deficit and whose budgets finally produced surpluses was Newt Gingrich. Everyone else, Republican and Democrat alike, borrowed and spent.


Anonymous said...

What is this "constitution" thing you keep referring to? It sounds so restrictive.

And once The One is in office, bloggers like you who post giant run-on sentences ("As a practical matter...") will have their speech permits revoked ;-)

K T Cat said...

Mea culpa! That was indeed a monstrous sentence. In the spirit of secular post-modernism I will blame circumstances beyond my control for that horrid bit of prose: it was early, my coffee hadn't kicked in, I had a lot on my mind because of external pressures ...

Or maybe that was just a lousy sentence.


As for The One, I can hardly wait. Speaker Pelosi, with the blessing of the Bush administration, is sprinting into uncharted fiscal territory in the form of unthinkably large deficits. This year she will surpass Denny Haster's record of a $375B deficit. With Obama as president, the sky's the limit!

Go team!

K T Cat said...

There. I broke the sentence into two parts. I still don't like the way it reads, but I'm sure that's not my fault, either.

Anonymous said...

That's overly simplistic. Clearly Newt backed down against Clinton in the 1995 budget battle. It is the 'people's' house and popular sentiment trumps the ability of the Speaker to demand fealty even from members of his party. The other example is Tip O'Neal presiding over Reagan tax cuts and big spending on defense. You greatly underestimate the Presidential bully pulpit; both are integral to the process.

K T Cat said...


I know that this post goes against the grain of nuanced, modern thought, that individuals who are given a job are excused of their responsiblities, yet there it is. Newt's budgets showed a steady, monotonic improvement while the others fluctuate wildly. It may be hard to believe, but there really are such men that are determined to succeed. Newt was one of them.

Claiming that Newt backed down is the oversimplification. He didn't get everything he wanted, but he got most of it. I remember the government shutdown quite well.

Dean said...

KT, Instead of a link, how about a post?

There has been a goofy Doonesbury cartoon hanging up next to our coffee mess for about a month that takes Republican presidents to task for mounting federal deficits and I have yet to mount an effective counter-attack.

This article is the perfect response - I will post it next to said cartoon tomorrow and, yeah, a link will be forthcoming. Nice work!

I will now attempt a word verification that resembles a Russian cosmonauts last name

K T Cat said...

Wow, thanks Dean! Does that make me a pin-up?