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To me, this may be the most amazing thing about the whole economic story of the last 30 years, and it’s certainly the most ironic: Except for about $900 billion of federal that existed before the Reagan presidency, and the interest since accumulated on it (the level of federal debt has not been reduced since the 1950s), the federal debt hanging over America today is entirely Republican debt! The Republican debt is over $12 trillion and rising.
This graph shows how the national debt grew up to 2008:
Today, the federal debt exceeds $14 trillion. As the following graph  shows, over $12 trillion of that (and growing) is attributable to deficits and borrowing incurred in the Reagan, George Bush, and GW Bush years, and the interest since compounded on that debt. The Clinton Administration, aided by a growth surge associated with the “dot com” boom, essentially balanced its budgets. As shown on the graph, the debt increased some in the Clinton years, but only to pay the interest on the Reagan/Bush debt:
As shown here, the total outstanding balance of the Republican debt is more than $12 trillion today. You can find it here in real time at zfacts.com: US national debt.
We hear a lot of talk about how “big-spending” Democrats have caused the current debt crisis with expensive social programs. The radical right complains hypocritically about Medicare and Medicaid, but those health care programs were in place before the Reagan Revolution, and did not incur federal debt. Social Security is self-funded by payroll taxes, and it’s in surplus. Because it is “off-budget,” it does not contribute to budget deficits or debt. Indeed, several trillions of dollars of federal debt have been financed by borrowing from the Social Security surplus!
The budget deficits created by the Reagan/Bush/Bush tax cuts simply mean that the wealthy elite has been avoiding paying its fair share of taxes, not that these programs are too “liberal” or expensive. 
Claims about Democratic administrations contributing to the debt problem in the last 30 years are simply untrue. Consider this next graph, which shows the national debt as a percentage of GDP. (Comparing the national debt to the size of the entire economy helps keep its relative size in mind, like adjusting your income for inflation to determine if your real income is getting bigger or smaller over time.)
The graph shows that the accumulated debt of WW II was huge compared to the economy, and that it was being steadily reduced in both Republican and Democratic administrations, until 1980 and the Reagan Administration. Since then, over the last 30 years, debt has gone up dramatically as a percent of GDP during the Reagan/Bush/Bush administrations.
In the Clinton Administration, debt was substantially reduced as a percent of GDP. As shown in the previous graph, the debt incurred in the Clinton Administration was only raised to cover the cost of interest on the previous Reagan/Bush new debt, which had nearly doubled debt as a percentage of GDP from roughly 35% to about 68%.
Then, in the fiscally disastrous GW Bush Administration, the federal debt increased to about 90% of GDP. As of March 25, 2011, the total U.S. Public Debt Outstanding was $14.26 trillion, 97.3% of calendar year 2010’s annual GDP of $14.66 trillion. 
Obama is politically, and falsely, slammed by the right as a “big spender” because of the need for spending to save the economy from the Great Recession that emerged from the Crash of 2008, which could have become a whole lot worse. President Obama made it clear from the beginning, however, that he intended to balance the budget as soon as possible. Ominously, the federal debt is back to nearly 100% of GDP, a perilous situation that was last seen at the end of WW II. Balancing the budget is becoming impossible.
Over the last 30 years, the borrowing power of the federal government was used to finance the tax cuts for the rich.
We cannot know whether there would have been any budget surpluses over the last 30 years if the marginal tax on personal income had stayed at 70%. But we do know that there has been an estimated $10-11 trillion of wealth transferred to the top 1% as a result of the marginal tax being reduced, so the $12 trillion of Republican debt, it is fair to say, was nearly all (if not entirely) raised to finance the tax cuts for the wealthy.
This is important and bears repeating: Our huge national debt is the result of continuous deficits needed to finance lower taxes for the wealthy elite. If the marginal rate had stayed at 70%, which as we have demonstrated was a proper for growth, prosperity, and stable income and wealth inequality, there would be no debt problem today.
To those who complain about government “welfare” programs, it must be pointed out that this has not only been the biggest spending “program” of all, it is now bankrupting the country. The cost of reducing the tax responsibility of the wealthy elite over 30 years has been astronomical, and beyond fiscally irresponsible. In essence, the wealthy elite used the credit of our government to borrow more wealth for themselves, and it is becoming abundantly clear that’s a loan they do not intend to repay.
I am compelled to point out that the last time the federal debt was 100% of GDP, right after WWII, America survived and prospered by taxing the highest incomes at a higher top tax rate:
The top tax rate stayed at 90% until the mid-1960s, when it could be safely lowered to 70%. Lowering the tax rate below 70% in 1980, so the wealthy could get richer, was the prescription for the disaster that we now have.
In December 2010, The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform issued a report entitled, ironically, “The Moment of Truth.” With complete detachment from reality, it recommended reducing the top rate from 35% to 23-29%. According to the Commission, “The top rate must not exceed 29.” Its plan, in effect, is a tax reduction plan, in which “revenue reaches 21 percent of GDP by 2022 and is then capped at that level.”
Under that plan, by 2022 the American economy would be long since in a depression. To get out of this bind, America needs a top rate closer to 70% again, and soon. But official America, its debt commissions and its politics and media, are controlled by the wealthy elite.
Wake up America: You’re still headed in the wrong direction!
JMH – 4/13/11
 As I write this, I’m looking at my copy of what I call “Laffer’s Laugher,” a book called “The End of Prosperity: How Higher Taxes Will Doom the Economy – If We Let It Happen.” This ideological propaganda was ironically published just before the Crash of 2008, when the housing market collapsed costing thousands of Americans of their homes and, for all but the wealthy few, many trillions of dollars of wealth.
 From zFacts.com. This site provides the spreadsheet computations.
 Indeed, the right wants to scare America into letting them privatize these programs, for their gain, at the expense of the American people, by misleading people into thinking their taxes are unduly burdened by these programs. On the contrary, over the last 30 years our tax dollars have been hard at work helping the rich get righer.
 Wikipedia, “United States public debt” (3/2/11); United States Department of the Treasury, Bureau of the Public Debt (December 2010). “The debt to the penny and who holds it”. TreasuryDirect.
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