Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Hey, Big Spender

George W. Bush has said a whole lot of stupid things since he launched his hostile takeover of the White House back in 2001, some of them even in fairly intelligible English. But his press conference statement last week--about how using his veto pen is “one way to ensure that I am relevant; that’s one way to ensure that I am in the process. And I intend to use the veto.”--may be the dumbest yet. It smacks of defensiveness. It reeks of petulance. It makes Bush look needy, as Pamela Leavey observed in The Democratic Daily. Worse, it reminds us of the image he’s so often fit in the past, that of the spoilsport who simply won’t play unless he gets to set all the rules.

As long as the Republican’t sheep were in charge of Congress, this self-aggrandizing “Decider” didn’t seem able to so much as find his veto pen, even when billions of American tax dollars were being wasted on bridges to nowhere, the diversion of Hurricane Katrina relief funds to build a new rail line through Mississippi, and Bush’s very own pet project, the endless occupation of Iraq. Before Democrats regained control of both houses of Congress last November, in a severe and historic rebuke of the GOP by voters, the prez drummed up courage enough to veto only one legislative bill, to expand federal support for embryonic stem cell research.

But suddenly, he’s acting all righteous about protecting the public pocketbook, as if he’s only just received the power to curb spending. Despite the fact that GOP budget-writers were chronically late with their annual funding requests (if they bothered to finish them at all), Bush now chides Democratic leaders for not sending him any of the dozen spending bills necessary to keep the federal government in operation next year. And he blithely vetoed a bipartisan measure that would have increased spending on the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), a Clinton-era program, by $35 billion over five years. “The State Children’s Health Insurance Program now subsidizes health care insurance coverage for about 6 million children at a cost of about $5 billion a year,” the Associated Press reported. “The vetoed bill would have added 4 million more children, most of them from low-income families, to the program at an added cost of $7 billion annually.” However, ideologue Bush claimed, quite inanely, that the SCHIP expansion was an effort to “federalize health care,” something that wealthy Republican’t backers with investments in America’s inadequate private health-care industry fear. (Fortunately, Dems plan to continue pressing Bush on this matter, knowing that public opinion is on the side of improving health care for children.)

Incredible as it seem, all of this righteous posturing occurs even as The New York Times reports that the U.S. State Department--Bush’s baby, of course--cannot say “specifically what it received” for most of the $1.2 billion it has paid out since 2004 to DynCorp International, its largest private contractor, for police-training services in civil-war-torn Iraq. And even as the White House demands that Congress fork over an additional $46 billion to keep the wars raging in Iraq and Afghanistan, bring the cost of Bush’s international aggressiveness to “$2.4 trillion through the next decade.”

So much for Bush Jr.’s promise, in his 2005 State of the Union address, that taxpayer dollars would “be spent wisely, or not at all.” He and his fellow Republican’ts have done everything they can think of to bankrupt the U.S. Treasury, so the federal government won’t have money enough--beyond military expenditures--to create any new social programs, or help Americans who are suffering from natural or corporate disasters.

Need more proof that Bush is a big spender, no matter what his speechwriters might have him declare in public? Just look to today’s McClatchy Newspapers analysis, which concludes that “George W. Bush, despite all his recent bravado about being an apostle of small government and budget-slashing, is the biggest-spending president since Lyndon B. Johnson. In fact, he’s arguably an even bigger spender than LBJ.”

“Take almost any yardstick and Bush generally exceeds the spending of his predecessors,” explains reporter David Lightman.
When adjusted for inflation, discretionary spending--or budget items that Congress and the president can control, including defense and domestic programs, but not entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare--shot up at an average annual rate of 5.3 percent during Bush’s first six years, [Stephen] Slivinski [the director of budget studies at the Cato Institute] calculates.

That tops the 4.6 percent annual rate Johnson logged during his 1963-69 presidency. By these standards, Ronald Reagan was a tightwad; discretionary spending grew by only 1.9 percent a year on his watch.

Discretionary spending went up in Bush’s first term by 48.5 percent, not adjusted for inflation, more than twice as much as Bill Clinton did (21.6 percent) in two full terms, Slivinski reports.

Defense spending is the big driver--but hardly the only one.

Under Bush it’s grown on average by 5.7 percent a year. Under LBJ--who had a war to fund, too--it rose by 4.9 percent a year. Both numbers are adjusted for inflation.

Including costs for fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, defense spending under Bush has gone up 86 percent since 2001, according to Chris Hellman of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.

Current annual defense spending--not counting war costs--is 25 percent above the height of the Reagan-era buildup, Hellman said.
Bush’s dwindling ranks of supporters counter that the 43rd prez came into office at the start of what turned out to be a minor recession, following the economically robust Clinton years, and that those downturns were exacerbated by the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. They counter, too, that Bush is fulfilling at least one of his promises: to cut the national deficit in half by 2009. “But,” Lightman observes, “the deficit drop may be fleeting ..., since lawmakers are likely to extend many of Bush’s tax cuts, which expire by the end of 2010, and the imminent retirement of the baby boom generation will send Medicare and Social Security costs soaring in the years ahead.”

The bottom line, as McClatchy shows clearly: Bush is “the most profligate spender in at least 40 years.”

This, from the same guy who claimed during a press conference last month that “I got a B in Econ 101. I got an A, however, in keeping taxes low and being fiscally responsible with the people’s money.” Who’re you kiddin,’ man?

READ MORE:How Bush Wrecked Conservatism,” by Gary Kamiya (Salon).

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