Promises gone by: a Bush budget retrospective.

There’s bad news on the economic front: Bush’s budget deficit will hit the half-trillion dollar mark next year, which is precisely the opposite of what President Bush has been promising since he first sought the office.

Let’s take a look back at each year’s budget news since 2000, the year before President Bush took office.

March 2000, Business Week:

The balanced federal budget is a remarkable feat. Remember the projections in the 1980s of $300 billion budget deficits as far as the eye could see? […] [T]he Congressional Budget Office is projecting a cumulative $3.6 trillion surplus over the next decade. The U.S. Treasury estimates it could pay off the national debt by 2013, and it already has started buying back some 30-year government bonds.


[N]o matter who wins the race for the Presidency, the news from the campaign trail on the economic front is relatively heartening.

Both Al Gore and George W. Bush seem committed to the fiscal blueprint that has worked so well over the past decade or so. Both are embracing the virtues of a balanced federal budget, debt reduction, deregulation, freer trade, and immigrants. Bush isn’t a card-carrying supply-sider, despite his $1.3 trillion tax cut proposal.

July 2002, CNN:

The White House revised this year’s federal budget deficit estimate upward to $165 billion Friday from an earlier $106 billion projection.

But numbers released Friday by the White House’s Office of Management and Budget project the deficit will begin to shrink next year — an outlook at odds with congressional budget experts, who project the deficit to grow again in fiscal 2003, which begins October 1.

With midterm elections on the horizon, the new numbers reignited the debate over why the government is back in the red after surpluses at the end of the Clinton administration.

August 2003, New York Times:

Even if the economy rebounds strongly over the next few years, the federal budget deficit could climb for the rest of the decade if Congress adopts proposals strongly supported by President Bush, the Congressional Budget Office said today.

Offering a sharp contrast to recent projections by the White House, which had said the budget deficit would hit $475 billion next year and decline significantly after that, the Congressional report warns that annual deficits could rise rather than fall.

The nonpartisan office said the deficit would be $480 billion next year but could reach a cumulative total of $5.8 trillion by 2013.

Administration officials quickly dismissed the Congressional projections as too speculative to take seriously, noting that long-term budget projections have been notoriously inaccurate.


Last month, the White House Office of Management and Budget projected that the deficit would peak at $475 billion next year and decline to just $62 billion in 2008.

January 2004, New York Times:

The Congressional Budget Office predicted today that the federal government would face a $477 billion budget deficit this fiscal year and a further cumulative deficit of $1.9 trillion over the next decade.


Treasury Secretary John Snow, in a speech delivered via satellite to a conference in London, repeated the administration’s commitment to cut the deficit in half over the next five years.

“Make no mistake: President Bush is serious about the deficit,” Mr. Snow said, The A.P. reported.

January 2005, New York Times:

The White House announced on Tuesday that the federal budget deficit was expected to rise this year to $427 billion, a figure that includes a new request from President Bush to help pay for the war in Iraq.

The White House’s announcement makes it the fourth straight year in which the budget deficit was expected to grow; as recently as last July the administration had predicted that the deficit, which was $412 billion last year, would fall this year to $331 billion.


In a briefing for reporters on Tuesday, senior administration officials insisted they were still on track to fulfill Mr. Bush’s campaign promise of reducing the federal budget deficit by half by 2009.

October 2006, USA Today:

President Bush touted a $248 billion budget deficit Wednesday as good news. Compared to forecasts, it was just that.


A recent Congressional Budget Office report shows that over the next decade, the government likely will rack up $3.5 trillion in red ink. That assumes Bush’s tax cuts are extended beyond their 2010 expiration, middle-income taxpayers are protected from the alternative minimum tax, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are phased down.

July 2007, Associated Press:

The nation’s budget deficit will drop to $205 billion in the fiscal year that ends in September, even as a worsening deficit picture for future years makes it more difficult for President Bush to meet his pledge of a surplus by 2012.
The deficits figures released by the White House on Wednesday show red ink less than half of what it was at its peak in 2004. It’s also a gain over the $244 billion that Bush predicted in February, but not as great an improvement as anticipated by other forecasters.

But the new figures show an increase in the deficit next year to $258 billion. Bush promises a $33 billion surplus in 2012.

And, finally, today:

The government’s budget deficit will surge past a half-trillion dollars next year, according to gloomy new estimates, a record flood of red ink that promises to force the winner of the presidential race to dramatically alter his economic agenda.

The deficit will hit $482 billion in the 2009 budget year that will be inherited by Democrat Barack Obama or Republican John McCain, the White House estimated Monday. That figure is sure to rise after adding the tens of billions of dollars in additional Iraq war funding it doesn’t include, and the total could be higher yet if the economy fails to recover as the administration predicts.

The result: the biggest deficit ever in terms of dollars, though several were higher in the 1980s and early 1990s as a percentage of the overall economy.


The administration actually underestimates the deficit since it leaves out about $80 billion in war costs. In a break from tradition — and in violation of new mandates from Congress — the White House did not include its full estimate of war costs.

The most hilarious moment in this entire sad saga came in 2005, when House Majority Leader Tom DeLay declared that “there is simply no fat left to cut in the federal budget.” It was always clear that Bush had no intention whatsoever of balancing the budget: he wanted big spending and low taxes. Don’t we all?

Published by Waldo Jaquith

Waldo Jaquith (JAKE-with) is an open government technologist who lives near Char­lottes­­ville, VA, USA. more »

5 replies on “Promises gone by: a Bush budget retrospective.”

  1. It’s surprising the President and Jim Gilmore don’t get along better, all things considered….

  2. In a briefing for reporters on Tuesday, senior administration officials insisted they were still on track to fulfill Mr. Bush’s campaign promise of reducing the federal budget deficit by half by 2009.

    I realize they’ve done a lot to elect a Democratic president, but I think they were too optimistic about what he’d be able to accomplish in his first year…

    (What, that’s not what they meant?)

  3. I’d be satisfied with lower spending and lower taxes. Has Obama put out a plan that lowers spending? In 22 years of business, I’ve only been able to cut a budget when I cut unnecessary spending; it seems as though Washington has been busy finding MORE necessary spending… you know, earmarks.

    That isn’t Dem. or Rep., Liberal or Conservative. It’s common sense.

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