Who Drove the Economy into the Ditch?

Member Group : Susquehanna Valley Center

By Bob Walker, Susquehanna Valley Center Board Member and Member of Congress (1977-1997)

On the campaign trail, one of President Obama’s favorite speech lines has been about Republicans driving the economy into the ditch. He claims to have spent two years trying to get us back out of that ditch, but makes certain that his audience understands that the Democrats did not put us there.

I object. The facts are that the economy was doing relatively well until 2007 when the Democrats assumed control of both houses of Congress. To stay with the President’s analogy for a moment, it was in January, 2007 when the Pelosi-Reid leadership team grabbed the wheel and jerked us into the ditch. Nothing speaks louder than the facts.

Unemployment at the beginning of 2007 after 12 years of Republican control of Congress and 6 years of the Bush Administration stood at 4.1 percent. Republican policies had the American workforce at close to full employment levels. The nominal GDP growth rate was 6.88 percent. That rate was almost double what it had been when the GOP took over Congress in 1995. The budget deficit was $161 billion, much too high compared to the balanced budgets of earlier in the decade, but was in the process of dropping.

So where were we two years into the Pelosi-Reid era on Capitol Hill? In January, 2009 unemployment had climbed to 7.2 percent. Nominal GDP growth was negative at a minus 5.8 percent. The budget deficit swelled to $455 billion and was on its way to the record of $1.4 trillion. We were in the ditch, not because Republicans drove us there, but because the Democrats came to power and went on a spending spree.

Mr. President, the real record is clear. It was the borrow and spend philosophy that the Pelosi-Reid Democratic Congress revived which crashed us into your metaphorical ditch. And you compounded the problem with massive new spending for a stimulus program which failed, with massive new regulations on the productive sectors of our economy and with a health care program that threatens to expand business costs for years to come. All of this has led to a weak economic growth rate, massive record deficits and unemployment and underemployment rates that are totally unacceptable. Recent independent economic projections based on your economic philosophy do not see us getting back to average unemployment numbers of 5 to 6 percent until 2018.

Clearly, the American people do not believe this is the change they signed for in 2008. Republicans still have to make amends for their own congressional budget busting when they were last in the majority. And if they fail to deliver on promises to cut deficits and deal with debt expansion, the American people will be intolerant of their assurances, too. But for the moment they are prepared to give Republicans another chance simply because the Democrats in Congress and the Obama Administration have failed. No amount of blame shifting and political character assassination are going to overcome that conclusion.

In the ditch. We certainly are. The economic facts of life starkly show who put us there. Four years of Democratic big government advocates controlling the levers of power on Capitol Hill have produced an economic calamity. Correction is on the way delivered by the American people on Election Day.

The opinions expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Susquehanna Valley Center.