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Federal Budget

Myth #1: “Republicans are the party of fiscal responsibility”


“Fiscal responsibility” has been a byword for the Grand Old Party since the days of the New Deal. Ronald Reagan was the Republican who most successfully and most completely institutionalized this belief in the American psyche, and as the Great Communicator, he certainly succeeded in reshaping the terms of debate in American politics. Not only did he excoriate those “tax and spend” Democrats, he utterly reversed the connotation of two words in the English language which had previously been highly complimentary “liberal” and “progressive”. Both became synonymous with “socialist” or even “communist” – which as we all know, is what all socialists aspire to be if only they had the courage.

We live under his long shadow still.

But how much of this is true? Are Republicans really that much better at controlling Federal spending than their Democratic rivals? That is the subject for our first myth busting investigation.

Let’s start by looking at the last three full-term Presidents for each party. For the Republicans: Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush. For the Democrats: Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.

Yearly Federal Budget Surplus or Deficit as Percentage of GDP

Source: Congressional Budget Office – Historical Data Tables, 1930 to 2015

The average budget deficit of the last three Republican presidents = – 3.3%
The average budget deficit of the last three Democratic presidents = -1.2%

Can we therefore conclude that Republicans are, in fact, almost three times as profligate as Democrats? Well, the numbers would appear to support that conclusion.

What about previous Administrations? This is a valid point. Let’s look at the rest of the Presidents since the end of World War 2. For the Republicans: Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. For the Democrats: Harry Truman and John F. Kennedy.

Yearly Federal Budget Surplus or Deficit as Percentage of GDP

The average budget deficit of all Republican presidents since 1947 = – 2.3%
The average budget deficit of all Democratic presidents since 1947 = -0.7%

It is clear from the evidence that Republican Administrations have been consistently worse at balancing the Federal budget than their Democratic counterparts. It is also true that both parties have become less fiscally responsible over time, with the exception of Bill Clinton.

Let’s leave this topic with a quote from Ronald Reagan when he was asked by a reporter if he was worried about the budget deficit: “I’m not worried about the deficit. It is big enough to take care of itself.”



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John Adams


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