The Great Bush Train Wreck?
Tom Teepen, The Day, 7/21/2003
In one of history's strangest cases of political cross-dressing, there were the spokesguys for a conservative Republican president, gainsaid little from a conservative Republican Congress, shrugging off the announcement of record federal deficits with a blithe "What, me worry?"
Those of us in Generation Ex remember when Republicans were fiscal Victorians and deficit prudes. But here we have the sobersides' whelps whooping it up in a Washington orgy of borrow and spend. The deficit will run $455 billion this year, we learn, and is expected to bump up to $475 billion next year. So?
So what, the White House answers. Budget Director Joshua Bolten allows that the current and pending deficits are not ideal but they are, he says, "manageable." And, anyway, they are not really the biggest ever, as a part of the overall economy — so there.
That's true, sort of. The $455 billion is 4.2 percent of the economy, compared to a high of 6 percent under President Ronald Reagan. But the deficit is still among the highest since World War II.
The GOP lost its budget virginity under Reagan, whose combination of tax cuts and record military spending plowed the government deeply into debt. (Apologists blame supposedly wanton spending by Democratic congresses — you know what they're like! — but in fact Congress stuck closely to Reagan's bottom line. The big argument was over how to proportion military and domestic outlays.)
The Reagan pattern is being copied now. The administration concedes that about a fourth of the deficit — only about a fourth, it says — is attributable to Bush's tax cuts. Democrats put the figure higher, but never mind. The tax cuts are deeply implicated. Another fourth comes from the economic funk that has eroded revenues and about half from increased spending, most of that on the military and homeland security. Reagan II.
Nor is relief in sight. The government is expected to run up $1.9 trillion in debt over the next five years. This a breathtaking turn-around.
The government posted a $127 billion surplus in 2001 and the Congressional Budget Office at the time projected $2.9 trillion in surpluses by '08. Now this. Why the Republican indifference? Remember, just a decade ago, many Republicans, and some conservative Democrats, were pushing for a constitutional amendment to require balanced federal budgets.
Actually, the train wreck that this runaway locomotive is racing toward delights some calculating conservatives. The elimination of many social programs and the privatization of others — Social Security and Medicare are prime candidates — are ready-make "solutions" in waiting.
With the president unwilling either to discipline spending or the demands of the well-off for their lions'-share tax cuts, these record deficits can't be counted just lamentable happenstance. They are policy.