CHART: Without The Bush Tax Cuts, The Debt Would Be At Sustainable Levels

When President George W. Bush came into office, he was facing a balanced budget and the real prospect of the United States paying down its national debt. In fact, in 2001, Bush promised to pay off all of the federal debt within 10 years.

Of course, that is not what happened. The debt and deficit ballooned under Bush, thanks to two wars, a financial crisis, and two rounds of unnecessary tax cuts.

Ten years ago today, President Bush signed the first of his two tax cuts, pledging that “tax relief will create new jobs, tax relief will generate new wealth, and tax relief will open new opportunities.” Instead, Bush’s tax cuts brought in a new era of red ink. Even with all the other economic catastrophes — including the wars and the financial crisis — the federal debt would be at a sustainable level today were it not for the Bush tax cuts, as CAP’s Michael Ettlinger and Michael Linden note:

Ten years ago today, the first round of Bush tax cuts became law. But what if they hadn’t? What would our fiscal situation look like if history had been different in just one respect: if we’d never implemented President George W. Bush’s eponymous tax policies? The short answer is that the debate over federal debt levels would be entirely different. In that alternate world, total debt as a share of GDP would be under 50 percent this year — instead of pushing 70 percent — and it would be expected to stay under 60 percent for the rest of the decade. That’s well below the levels causing such great consternation in Washington.

The Bush tax cuts ushered in the weakest economic expansion of the post-war period, as “growth in investment, GDP, and employment all posted their worst performance.” ThinkProgress’ Zaid Jilani noted that, for the cost of the Bush tax cuts, the U.S. could have, among other things, given 49.2 million people access to low-income healthcare every year, provided 43.1 million students with Pell Grants every year, or provided 31.5 million children with access to Head Start every year.