Congress: Not Democratic, and Not to Blame

Conservatives are embarassed by the way Reagan and the Bushes ran the debt up and out of control. So they have invented a cover story: The Democratic Congress did it. I have run into this lie dozens of times. So, I dug deep to set the record straight.


As the figure shows, Reagan and Bush senior got almost exactly the budgest they requested in each of their 12 budget years.

  • Reagan:
  • The first budget — passed by all Republicans and a few conservative Southern Democrats.
    • This increased the debt by [#$144 Billion].
  • The next 5 budgets — passed by the Republican Senate and signed by Reagan.
  • The last 2 budgets — passed by a Democratic Congress
    • Totalled slightly less than Reagan requested.
  • G. H. W. Bush:
  • Democratic Congresses under Bush passed smaller budgets than he requested in 3 out of 4 years.
  • These four Democratic budgets totalled  $14.6 Billion less than Bush requested.
  • G. W. Bush:
  • The first two budgets — Senate was split 50/50 and the House was Democratic.
    • Bipartisan and totalled $20 Billion less than Bush requested.
    • The biggest cause of deficits was Bush's enormous tax cut, mainly for the rich.
  • The next 4 budgets — the Congress was solid Republican.
  • The last 2 budgets — [#Bush vetoed] modest Democratic attempts at spending. 

In summary: Democrats controlled Congress during 8 out the 20 years. During 4 of those years, Democrats decreased the budgets proposed by the Republican presidents. Their total effect during those 8 years was to reduce Republican budgets by $17 Billion (which is only 0.2%).


  I finally tracked down exactly what Congress did. There were a few scattered cites on the web to a mysterious House report from 1992, but I could never find it., So a few days ago, I pulled together my best clues and wrote to the help desk at the Library of Congress. They nailed it in less than a day. Amazing. There is no such report, but they found a table with that name that is published annually and has all the budget results going back to the 1920s or so. (From the government printing office.xlnk.gif)

You can read  in Time magazinexlnk.gif  how Reagan outmanuevered the Democrats to get his first budget passed. This is the budget that ended the 32 year payoff of the WWII debt and sent the national debt spinning out of control (except for a brief turn-around under Clinton).


From the G. W. Bush White House: The Reagan-Bush Debt Explained

"The traditional pattern of running large deficits only in times of war or economic downturns was broken during much of the 1980s. In 1982 [Reagan's first budget year], partly in response to a recession, large tax cuts were enacted. However, these were accompanied by substantial increases in defense spending. Although reductions were made to nondefense spending, they were not sufficient to offset the impact on the deficit. As a result, deficits averaging $206 billion were incurred between 1983 and 1992. These unprecedented peacetime deficits increased debt held by the public from $789 billion in 1981 to $3.0 trillion (48.1% of GDP) in 1992." [emphasis added]

From "Historical Tables, Budget of the U.S. Government, Fiscal Year 2006." Downloaded from Page 5.



[=$144 Billion] The previous record, $90 Billion, was set the year before by Carter.  That was only $3 Billion higher than the record set by Ford.
[=Bush vetoed] WASHINGTON — President Bush vetoed another children’s health bill on Wednesday, effectively killing Democrats’ hopes of expanding a popular government program aimed at providing insurance to youngsters in lower- and middle-income families. (December 13, 2007)
[=PopNotes] Just hover over green-underline links above to see the "pop" notes.