The libertarian Cato Institute's budget director: "He's a big government guy."
The conservative Club for Growth's executive director: "He's a big spender. No questions about it."
Who were they talking about? Walter Mondale? Michael Dukakis? Nope. Those comments referred to George W. Bush, a president who recently claimed the title "Most Profligate President." He's easily the most reckless spender of our lifetime. And Washington did not slip into the red by accident.
Discretionary outlays, adjusted for inflation -- meaning taxpayer dollars spent voluntarily -- have grown 5.3 percent under George W. Bush, more than Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford combined. But to make your jaw drop, how about this statistic: spending growth under "W" is more than double what it was under Jimmy Carter.
In the face of growing the budget, Bush has chosen to cut taxes. And so what's the result? A whopping big deficit, the likes of which we've never seen. In fact, after eight years of responsible stewardship under President Clinton, the Bush administration has turned a projected $5 trillion surplus into a $2.8 trillion deficit.
Some GOPers are arguing the deficits don't matter. But they do, and let us explain why.
First, whether it's your brother-in-law or the Bank of America, a creditor has claims that you can't entirely ignore. And the Bush administration's failure to balance the budget has forced the U.S. Treasury to sell bonds at an explosive rate: $1.2 trillion between 2000 and 2005. Who's bought all that debt, lending us the money we need to keep the government open? A great deal has been purchased by foreign governments -- many of whom have foreign policy interests that don't always mesh with our own.
As President Clinton said a few years back, the Bush administration's penchant for racking up debt has forced the United States, "to go borrow money. Most of it they borrow from the Chinese and the Japanese governments. Sure these countries are competing with us for good jobs, but how can we enforce our trade laws against our bankers?"
This brings us the most important reason deficits matter: When we borrow money without paying it back, we bequeath our children and grandchildren higher tax rates and much more meager public benefits than we enjoy, because they will have to foot our bill.
There is a better way. At the end of World War II, America's debt exceeded its entire gross domestic product (GDP). Yet rather than throw up their hands, our parents and grandparents whittled down their deficits. What did the "greatest generation" know that we have forgotten? Simply this: Opportunity, not debt, is the legacy we owe to future Americans.
Paul Weinstein Jr. is a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Marc Dunkelman, who grew up in Snyder, is director of the Democratic Leadership Council's Ideas Primary.