Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) -- on the short list of contenders for the GOP's presidential nomination in 2012 -- has an explanation for why the deficit exploded under George W. Bush. And it's not the massive Bush tax cuts, which Daniels helped shepherd as Bush's director of the OMB.
"The nation went into a deficit then because the bubble burst and we had a recession," Daniels told CNN this afternoon. "It wouldn't have mattered what policies you tried to implement, we were going to have a great big reversal."
Daniels' presidential ambitions could be hampered by the fact that he was one of the men in charge of the Bush budget that dramatically increased the size of federal government spending and slashed revenues thanks to the tax cuts. That helped create the gigantic federal deficit that Republicans used as a rhetorical cudgel to bludgeon the Democratic House majority to death in November. Tea partiers also like to use the deficit cudgel on Republicans, especially those that voted for Bush's budgets. (Daniels has other problems with the GOP base, too, such as his suggestion that it's time for a "truce
" on social issues, which ticked off the values voters something fierce.)
Here's a talking point Daniels' potential GOP primary opponents could use against him, courtesy of a question from CNN's Wolf Blitzer:
"The national debt doubled during the eight years of the Bush administration," Blitzer said. He then pointed out that the government increased in size as well -- which runs counter to GOP dogma -- and asked Daniels to explain how that happened.
"I think there's plenty of blame to go around," Daniels said. "And we could spend the next couple years trying to apportion it and assign it between Republicans and Democrats and the economy in which two bubbles popped and led to a plunge in revenues."
"I will just say that the choices that were made in those years were not all accurate, not all good ones, but far better than what we've been doing over the last two years.