Dispatches from the Creation Wars

In a Washington Post column the other day, George Will said the same thing I’ve been saying the last couple weeks – the notion that Bush’s proposed budget is fiscally responsible is ridiculous:

Not that his “lean” (his adjective) and “austere” (John McCain’s) $2.57 trillion budget is anything of the sort. It proposes spending 38 percent more than the government was spending when Bush became president. It would slice off only thin slivers here and there: Remember, entitlements and interest are two-thirds of the budget and discretionary domestic spending is just 17 percent. It calls for a 3.6 percent increase over last year’s spending total. Discretionary spending unrelated to security is slated to decrease only 0.7 percent. The net cut of 1 percent of the Education Department’s budget is a mere nick to a budget that has grown 40 percent under Bush.

The proposed cut in agriculture spending is supposed to illustrate the budget’s austere leanness. Well…

Rich Lowry, editor of National Review, notes that in the past two years agriculture subsidies, which you might think are supposed to cushion farms in hard times, increased 40 percent while farm income was doubling…

Today’s president, the first since John Quincy Adams to serve a full term without vetoing anything, last week announced the limit of his tolerance: He vowed to veto a spending decrease. That is the unmistakable meaning of his statement that he would brook no changes in his prescription drug entitlement, which by itself has an unfunded liability twice as large as the entire Social Security deficit.

To pass this new entitlement, the largest expansion of the welfare state since the enactment of Medicare in 1965, Republican leaders had to traduce House rules by holding the vote open for three hours while they browbeat members who were balking at the $400 billion cost over 10 years. It is virtually certain that the bill would not have passed if today’s cost projection — at least $724 billion — had been known.

Paul Musgrave put it well a couple days ago when he said:

Once–I remember it well–Republicans talked a good game about fiscal responsibility. In 1994, we were going to dismember large parts of the federal bureaucracy, drastically cut other programs, and work to ensure that the federal government’s fiscal irresponsibility wouldn’t imperil the budgetary health of state governments. The annus mirabilis of 1995 was the beginning, the peak, and the end of serious efforts along these lines.

There are fundamental contradictions among Republican policy aims. Taken severally, cutting taxes, cutting spending, balancing the budget, and acting as global sheriff are all defensible policies. Many of these policies can even work in conjunction with each other. But the GOP has forgotten the signal insight of conservatism: You can’t have everything, so adapt your desires to what is possible.

I don’t really have anything to add to that. I’m just glad I’m not the only one who has noticed that all this talk of this “austere” budget full of “deep spending cuts” is a big scam. And we certainly know that the Democrats aren’t going to be the ones to stand up for fiscal responsibility, which makes it all the more frustrating. With firm control of both houses of Congress and the White House, the Republicans really are in a position to make positive changes, to not only restrain spending but to make some real systemic changes that might keep the budget on track into the future. But as it turns out, they’ve been far worse than those “tax and spend liberals” they’ve been ranting about for ages. They’ve pushed spending up at extraordinary rates while simultaneously cutting taxes, which means basically going on a huge spending spree and handing the credit card bill to our children, or ourselves in 15 years. It’s fiscal insanity, but who on earth is going to put a stop to it?


  1. #1 norbizness
    February 22, 2005

    Aquaman? Nah, he can only talk to marine life.

  2. #2 raj
    February 23, 2005

    It should be remembered that Republicans controlled the Senate during the first six years of the Reagan presidency, and could have used that control to attempt to reign in federal spending and federal deficits. They did neither–quite to the contrary, they increased both by a wide margin. As far as I’m concerned, that showed their true colors. They knew that, in order to get elected, they would have to pay off what they viewed as their constituencies–or constituencies they wanted to woo to maintain power–and the Democrats didn’t mind as long as their constituencies were also paid off at least to some extent. Under Reagan and Bush, agricultural subsidies (illustrative of red-state welfare based on blue-state taxes) soared, as did defense spending even after the dissolution of the Communist threat. Under Bush/Cheney, the same is happening…along with spending going to the pharma companies, and irresponsible tax reductions given the deficit levels. The likelihood of getting any reigning in of federal spending or deficits under the Republicans is between slim and none.

  3. #3 Ed Brayton
    February 23, 2005

    It should be remembered that Republicans controlled the Senate during the first six years of the Reagan presidency, and could have used that control to attempt to reign in federal spending and federal deficits. They did neither–quite to the contrary, they increased both by a wide margin.

    One of the great myths of American politics is the one that says that Reagan wanted to cut the budget, but the Democratic congress wouldn’t let him. The truth is that 7 out of the 8 years he was in office, the proposed budget he sent to Congress was actually larger than the one Congress sent back to him for his signature. But it’s an incredibly persistent myth despite that fact.

  4. #4 CPT_Doom
    February 23, 2005

    Just for the record, it was the Democrats in 1994, who introduced the fiscal controls necessary to bring our budget into surplus by 2000 – and it cost many a Democrat his/her seat in the house in that year’s election, because they had the audacity to actually increase government revenue. Contrary to popular conservative myth, that did not stymie business growth (in fact, given the large deficits of the time, it likely improved the outlook for growth, as it was clear the country was on a better financial path).

    That being said, it is very difficult for any member of Congress to cut funding, because it is always being cut in someone’s district. Even more interesting was some recent conversions by GOP governors who, as members of Congress, fought for fiscal austerity, and now are complaining about budget cuts.

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