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(This page needs to be expanded to cover the ballooning of debt under Reagan, Clinton's balancing of the budget, ballooning again under Bush, and being reined in under Obama.)
|President||Starting date||Ending date||Starting debt||Ending debt||Gain amount||Gain factor|
|George W. Bush||2001-01-20||2009-01-20||5,727,776,738,304.64||10,626,877,048,913.08||$4.9t||1.85|
Source: The Debt to the Penny and Who Holds It
The 2008 financial meltdown seems almost to have been engineered for the purpose of generating panic and urgency over the deficit, and the Republicans have been using it in exactly that way: to argue for cuts that will not make a significant difference to the budget but that will increase the general level of chaos in the US and elsewhere, leading to more uncertainty and fear, leading to an increasingly panicked and gullible citizenry.
This manipulation seems to be coming to a head in 2011, with draconian budget cuts and accompanying anti-democratic legislation by newly-elected "Tea Party" Republican politicians at the state level leading to enormous public protest in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio, among others.
At the federal level, Republican lawmakers attempted to cut funding for services such as NPR and Planned Parenthood, arguing that these were necessary in order to balance the budget. None of the items they suggested, however, were substantial portions of US discretionary spending, and they finally had to back down rather than risk a politically-damaging government shutdown.
Republicans have also been spreading claims that Social Security is non-solvent, and that cuts therefore need to be made to it; many people appear to have been at least partly convinced by this. Aside from being a wildly incorrect claim, reducing Social Security benefits would be unethical, since that would essentially be stealing from those who paid into the system with the promise that they would be taken care of after retirement. (See US/Social Security/myths.) This argument serves solely to undermine people's sense of economic security.
The single change which would come closest to balancing the budget is to restore personal income tax to pre-Bush levels, although this would not solve the problem completely.