Monday, February 14, 2005

The era of big government being over is over

The New York Times had an interesting piece in its Week in Review section this Sunday titled Cut Short: The Revolution That Wasn't

It is about the Republican Revolution that Newt Gingrich led 10 years ago and the article asks the obvious question - What happened? Here are some key snippets from the article:

Last week President Bush unveiled a $2.57 trillion budget for 2006, the largest in the nation's history.

Overall federal spending has increased twice as fast under Mr. Bush as under Mr. Clinton. At the same time, the federal deficit is projected to hit a record high of $427 billion this year.

The White House estimated last week that the cost of prescription drugs for Medicare beneficiaries, originally projected at $400 billion from 2004 to 2013, would, in fact, be $724 billion from 2006 to 2015. Republicans called for scaling back the benefit, but on Friday, Mr. Bush said no and vowed to veto any changes to the Medicare bill.

"The era of big government being over is over," declared Marshall Wittmann, a senior fellow at the Democratic Leadership Council, a centrist Democratic research organization.
“Yesterday's revolutionaries are today's pragmatic politicians," he said. "It's a classic tale of any revolution. They start out as revolutionaries wanting to storm the Bastille and the end up as 'All the King's Men.' "

The one thing I disagree with here is his characterization of the current crop of Congressional leaders as “pragmatic politicians.” That may be true for a few of them, but most would be more accurately described as incompetent goofs and reactionary radicals.

Of course, Mr. Bush has also proposed lots of spending cuts in his 2006 budget, but these would have little impact on the deficit even if they are all adopted which is not likely. The The New York Times Editorial Board puts it this way:

Mr. Bush has been talking the deficit reduction talk, but there's no sign that he is willing to walk the walk. In his 2006 budget, he pledges to slash spending, but largely in areas that would have only a small impact on the deficit and where cuts would be politically difficult, not to mention cruel, such as food stamps, veterans' medical care, child care and low-income housing.

I’ve heard Bush partisans defend these cuts by saying the programs are redundant and weren’t accomplishing what they were supposed to be doing. But this begs just one question - Why did Bush wait until now to request that they be cut? He’s been president for the past four years and didn’t request they be cut in his past four budgets. What changed? Were they not redundant and wasteful last year but they are this year?

Finally, Bush’s dedication to cutting the deficits would be more plausible if he wasn’t taking other steps at the same time that will more than overwhelm any savings produced by his proposed spending cuts. Here is the NYTimes again:

Meanwhile (Bush) is pounding the table for more deficit-bloating measures - making his first-term tax cuts permanent, at a 10-year cost of as much as $2.1 trillion; putting into effect two high-income tax breaks that were enacted in 2001 but have been on hold, at a 10-year cost of $115 billion; and introducing new tax incentives to allow high earners to shift even more cash into tax shelters, at a cost that would ultimately work out to more than $30 billion a year when investors cashed in their accounts tax-free.

And don’t forget the trillions of dollars that Bush wants to borrow over the next several years on behalf of his Social Security privatization scheme as well as the expanding cost of his foreign policy misadventure in the Middle East where we are spending hundreds of billions of dollars to make it possible for hardline Islamic clerics affiliated with Iran to take control in Iraq.

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