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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Reid Wrong on Bush’s Economic Record

Sen. Harry Reid falsely claimed that 8 million jobs were lost during the Bush administration. To the contrary, there was a net gain of 1 million jobs under President George W. Bush. It's true that more than 8 million jobs were lost as a result of the recent recession — from the job peak to trough — but only about half of those were lost under Bush.

The Nevada Democrat also falsely claimed that Bush turned a projected surplus of $7 trillion over 10 years into a $14 trillion debt. The fact is Bush inherited a $5.7 trillion debt, which became a $10.6 trillon debt.

Blaming Bush for Job Losses

Reid, the Senate majority leader, made these claims in a news conference held Aug. 1 to discuss the bipartisan agreement to raise the debt-ceiling limit.

Reid, Aug. 1: We lost 8 million jobs with the Bush administration. To show the difference, President Clinton created 23 million jobs.

Reid is correct about the number of jobs gained over the course of the Clinton administration. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 22.7 million jobs were added between January 1993 and January 2001. (See total nonfarm, seasonally adjusted — the standard measure of jobs.)

But Reid's numbers are wildly inaccurate for the Bush administration. BLS data show there was a net increase of nearly 1.1 million jobs — not a job loss — from January 2001 to January 2009.

It's true that roughly 8.75 million jobs were lost from January 2008 to February 2010. But about half of those losses occurred during Obama's presidency. BLS data show that 4.4 million jobs were lost in Bush's last year in office, and 4.3 million more jobs were lost during Obama's first 13 months.

In the past, some Republicans have blamed Obama for job losses that occurred under Bush, as we have written before. This time, it's a Democrat falsely blaming Bush.

Blaming Bush for Debt

Reid also falsely blames the Bush administration for the entire $14 trillion national debt.

Reid, Aug. 1: We had a surplus when he took office of $7 trillion over 10 years. We're now — because of the unpaid wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the unpaid taxes and drug programs — we're now [at] $14 trillion.

That's wrong on two counts. The projected surplus wasn't $7 trillion when Bush took office, and $3.7 trillion of the $14 trillion in total debt has been added since he left.

On the projected surplus, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office issued a report in January 2001 — the month Bush took office — that estimated budget surpluses of "$5.6 trillion over the 2002-2011 period," not $7 trillion as Reid claimed. That CBO report said that "much of the current debt will be paid down over the next several years" if the surpluses materialize. Of course, the projected surpluses did not materialize — in part because of the recession that began shortly after Bush took office — something CBO did not anticipate in its projections.

Also, the total public debt stood at $5.7 trillion on Jan. 20, 2001, the date of Bush's inauguration. And when he left, the total debt was $10.6 trillion. That's a huge increase, to be sure. But to suggest Bush's policies were to blame for the entire $14.3 trillion debt ignores what happened before and after Bush's presidency.

As we've written before, the Bush tax cuts and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have helped produce unforeseen budget gaps, as have two recessions and expanded health care and economic stimulus spending under both Bush and Obama.

— Scott Blackburn