Deficit diggers now vow to fill hole

Both parties bear debt blame

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In 1998, the nation enjoyed its first surplus since 1969 and continued to run surpluses for a few years. While the total debt continued to grow, the government paid down the public portion by more than $400 billion between 1998 and 2001.

The fiscal direction of the country changed again in 2001.

After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, President Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress led the charge for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and later paved the way for a prescription-drug benefit for seniors, known as Medicare Part D.

The Congressional Research Service estimates that the wars have cost more than $1 trillion, while the prescription drug program has led to $207 billion more in spending. The GOP also spearheaded sweeping tax increases in 2001 and 2003, which the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a left-leaning think tank, estimates reduced federal revenues by at least $2.3 trillion.

During Mr. Bush’s eight years in office, the national debt jumped from $5.628 billion to $9.98 trillion. Mr. Obama’s $814 billion stimulus package and unchecked entitlement spending over the past two years pushed the total debt past $14 trillion.

“There is not a great track record of spending among Republicans, particularly in the first half of the Bush administration,” Mr. Holtz-Eakin said. But with Democrats at the helm, “between 2008 and 2010 we had the single worst Congress on spending — period.”

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