|"Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast"
|"The liberal soul shall be made fat, and he that watereth, shall be watered also himself."
-- Proverbs 11:25
I know this is a bit early, but I wanted to get some facts out there in advance of the debate. I picked five major bills in the past decade that have significantly increased the national debt: the 2001 tax cut, the 2003 tax cut, the 2003 Medicare prescription drug benefit, the 2009 stimulus, and the 2010 tax cut. (I left out the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars because it’s hard to pin down Congressional votes specifically authorizing their costs, in part because the famous Senate vote wasn’t actually a vote to go to war, in part because of the peculiar way the costs of the wars were budgeted.)
Then, for each of those bills, I looked up the CBO budget impact estimate made at the time. (Sources are at the bottom of this post.) Their costs, as projected at the time (and hence as knowable by members of Congress), were as follows. The first number is the ten-year cost; the number in parentheses is the portion of that cost through fiscal year 2011. Numbers are in billions.
* 2001 tax cut: $1,346 ($1,346)
* 2003 tax cut: $350 ($354 — the cut has a tiny deficit-reducing impact in its final years)
* Medicare Part D: $395 ($271). Note that I am not including the fact that the cost of this bill was almost immediately reestimated after it passed to be significantly higher, since that was not knowable to members of Congress when they voted.
* 2009 stimulus: $838 ($793)
* 2010 tax cut: $858 ($374)
That’s a total of $3.8 trillion — $3.1 trillion of it hitting the national debt by this year, and hence contributing directly to the need to raise the debt ceiling.
Then I looked up how current senators voted on these bills, whether they were in the Senate or the House at the time. For each senator, I added up how much of the current (2011) debt he could have voted for, and how many he did vote for. So, for example, Daniel Akaka (D-HI) was in the Senate for all five votes, so he was on the floor for $3.1 trillion in budget-busting bills; he voted for the last two, so he voted for $1.2 trillion, or 37 percent of what he could have voted for.
The results are predictable, but I still think worthy of noting, especially with all of the grandstanding that is going to happen.
Overall, current Democratic senators (including Sanders and Lieberman) had the opportunity to vote on $127 trillion of additional debt, and voted for $64 trillion, or 50 percent; current Republican senators had the opportunity to vote on $104 trillion of debt and voted for $70 trillion, or 67 percent.
The difference would have been greater except for trends in the composition of the Senate. Of current senators, the proportion in each party voting for each bill is as follows:
* 2001 tax cut: Democrats 18%, Republicans 93%
* 2003 tax cut: D 3%, R 94%
* Medicare Part D: D 17%, R 88%
* 2009 stimulus: D 100%, R 5%
* 2010 tax cut: D 77%, R 87%
So the typical Democratic vote pattern is N-N-N-Y-Y (I counted “present” and not voting as no votes — there were very few of these, anyway), which would mean voting for 37 percent of the total debt produced by these bills (just like Daniel Akaka). In fact, thirty-four Democrats were able to vote on all five bills, and twenty of them voted that way.
The typical Republican vote pattern is Y-Y-Y-N-Y, which means voting for 75 percent of the total debt. And, of the twenty-seven Republicans around for all five bills, eighteen of them voted that way.
The reason that the Republican-Democratic “debt responsibility” percentages are 67-50 instead of 75-37 is that not all senators have been in Congress for the past decade, and most of the ones who have only been there for a few years are Democrats. So there are many Democrats who were only in Congress for the last two votes, on which they typically voted Y-Y (100%), and a few Republicans who were only there for the last two votes, on which they typically voted N-Y (32%). So the facts that the Democrats’ budget-busting bills came later, and that I’m only looking at current senators, make the Democrats seem more profligate than their party has been as a whole, and vice-versa for Republicans.
The bottom line: As a party, the Republicans who will be railing against fiscal irresponsibility and threatening to block a raise in the debt limit are the irresponsible ones themselves who created the need to raise that debt limit. The Democrats can claim to be somewhat less irresponsible; more to the point, perhaps, insofar as they did vote to raise the debt, at least their current behavior (assuming that most support the administration and vote to raise the debt limit) is at least consistent with their past votes.