Jewish World Review Feb. 6, 2004 / 14 Shevat, 5764
Debra J. Saunders
The math Dubya forgot
President Bush is now paying for the big mistake
he made in 2002 when he failed to veto a farm bill that
was a corporate welfare bonanza for American
Actually, American taxpayers are paying for that
The Bushies have announced that the president's
new spending plan would halve the deficit in five
years, but it turns out that half doesn't mean half of the
$521 billion projected for 2005, but half of the deficit's
percentage of the gross domestic product.
This is the administration's too-little too-late response
to the realization that its first-term spending spree
isn't sitting well with those who have to bankroll it.
Only three years ago, Bush proposed a $1.96 trillion
budget; now he has upped the ante to $2.4 trillion for
2005, excluding the cost of military operations in Iraq
In defense of the president, it should be noted that
much of the increase is due to events beyond his
control. The Sept. 11, 2001, attacks blew a hole in the
nation's economy and revealed the need for
Washington to spend more on national security to
prevent further attacks. More than three-quarters of the
increase in federal discretionary spending is directly
related to America's "response to the attacks,"
according to Office of Management and Budget
Director Joshua Bolten. Revenues already had
shrunk because of a recession that was spawned
before Bush took office.
But editorial writers are giving Bush little slack
because he failed to check Capitol Hill's tendency
toward profligacy. Not only did Bush not veto the farm
bill, he let members know he wouldn't veto it which
only encouraged them to spend even more. When
Congress racked up the tab on his spending
proposals, he often just signed them. Big mistake.
Simply put, Bush broke the covenant Republican
officeholders are supposed to share with voters: that
they'll be tight with other people's money. (At the very
least, GOP presidents are supposed to be cheaper
than Democratic presidents.)
"They're only the cheap party when they're in
opposition here," noted Chris Edwards of the
libertarian Cato Institute. Congressional Republicans
kept President Clinton from overspending, Edwards
noted, recalling the 1995 House bid to eliminate the
Commerce and Education departments. Now last
decade's skinflints are on the gravy train.
When government isn't divided, Edwards continued, "If the president doesn't exercise leadership, Congress just descends into following their own parochial interests." And: "If (members) don't see the president taking a harder line, they think they should get their share of the pie."
It's pretty clear that politics got Bush and your tax
dollars into this hole. Perhaps the president didn't
think it was worth expending political capital on an
uphill bid to cut spending. Besides, voters like big
guvmint programs. Worse, the Bushies can be overly
impressed with themselves when they manage to
steal Democratic issues, like the Bush-backed
prescription drug program.
The result is that Bush OKd a prescription-drug
benefit that America can't afford. Now, in an election
year, Bush has to make cuts he does not want to
make and the Bushies have allowed Democrats to
pose as fiscal tightwads. (They're not. The Dems
wanted to pass a much pricier prescription drug bill,
but that doesn't matter now.)
So, Bush's "reduction in the growth of discretionary
spending unrelated to security" Bolten's words
doesn't go far enough. Out of a $2.4 trillion budget,
Bush League cuts but a paltry $4.9 billion?
Call that a too-modest beginning. Next, Bush should
work with Congress to trim back the new prescription
drug benefit that on paper already has grown from a
projected cost of $395 billion to $534 billion over 10
years. Washington should work toward making the
program focus on catastrophic drug costs, and
increase the premiums.
His threat to veto the pork-heavy transportation bill, at
least, may be working. But there are a number of
voters who will never believe Bush wants to be
suitably stingy about spending their money until he
takes back his proposed $18 million increase in the
budget for the National Endowment for the Arts.
Too much is at stake here: Bush cut taxes in order to stimulate the economy, and that is working. But a ballooning deficit threatens to hurt the recovery. It has become a club Democrats have every right to use to bash Bush for fiscal irresponsibility. There's only one way to blunt those blows: Cut.
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