Now comes Bruce Bartlett, a senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis, who writes at the well-trafficked conservative TownHall.com Web site:
I am not particularly a deficit hawk, nor do the size of the Bush tax cuts bother me. What really bothers me is the orgy of spending by Republicans. It is just appalling that the recent highway bill had 5,000 “earmarks” in it. These are almost without exception, utterly unjustified pork barrel projects.But, Bartlett complains, tens of billions of dollars of GOP-approved pork-barrel projects are only part of the problem. What’s really sapped U.S. fiscal health is the rapidly swelling cost of entitlement programs, he opines.
I am further appalled by President’s Bush’s unwillingness to use his veto pen to maintain some semblance of fiscal discipline. He is the first president to serve a full term without vetoing anything since John Quincy Adams, who served from 1824 to 1828. ...
When I complain about this to the rapidly dwindling number of friends I have in the White House, they always tell me that it is very hard to veto bills when a Congress controlled by your own party passes them. But this excuse is just total humbug, as the Brits might say. Franklin D. Roosevelt vetoed a record 372 bills, every one of them passed by Congresses controlled by his party. Other Democrats have also shown no unwillingness to veto bills passed by Democratic Congresses. John F. Kennedy vetoed 12 bills, Lyndon Johnson vetoed 16, and Jimmy Carter vetoed 13.
President Bush is well aware of the problems in this area. He eloquently explained the deteriorating fiscal condition of the Social Security program in many speeches this year, as part of his effort to reform that program and stabilize its finances for future generations.Now, many of us would argue that there was value in a prescription drug benefit, at least as originally conceived by Democrats. But the Republican version of this legislation, which (amazingly) forbids the federal government from bargaining for lower drug prices, is nobody’s idea of perfection.
He was unsuccessful in large part, I believe, because he made the finances of the Medicare program--which was in far worse shape than Social Security to begin with--vastly worse by adding a huge, unfunded drug benefit. The Medicare program was already bankrupt and should have been the primary focus of Bush’s reform effort. Instead, he not only ignored Medicare’s looming crisis, he made it an order of magnitude worse.
By contrast, Social Security is in great financial shape and nowhere near the imminent collapse that faces Medicare in just a few short years. Here are the facts as reported by the Social Security and Medicare actuaries earlier this year. The unfunded liability of Social Security in perpetuity is $11.1 trillion. The unfunded liability of Medicare is $68.1 trillion, of which $18.2 trillion is accounted for just by the recently enacted drug benefit.
In short, even if President Bush had been successful in enacting a perfect Social Security reform bill, one that completely eliminated that program’s unfunded liability, we would still be $7 trillion worse off as a result of the extraordinarily ill-considered drug benefit.
Unfortunately, President Bush’s reaction to any suggestion that the drug bill even be postponed has been outrage and the promise of a veto. “I signed the Medicare reform proudly,” he said earlier this year, “and any attempt to ... take away ... prescription drug coverage under Medicare will meet my veto.”TRIVIA: Of the 43 U.S. presidents so far, a mere seven failed ever to use their veto power. Four of those did not serve full terms (William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, and James A. Garfield), while two others spent only a single term in office (John Adams and John Quincy Adams). The last two-termer who left the presidency without every vetoing legislation was Thomas Jefferson (1801-09).
It would be ironic if the only bill of his presidency he absolutely should not veto became the only one he did veto.