On the Budget, President Bush Is Missing in Action

Posted March 16, 2005 at 3:33pm

On the Budget, President Bush Is Missing in Action

Today, Congress will vote on a five-year budget for the nation. Though usually contentious, this year’s debate is relatively quiet, as the richest nation in the world begs foreigners to finance our lifestyle.

Most Americans can name the president’s top four policy priorities: tax cuts, war in Iraq, Social Security reform and Medicare drug legislation. What Americans don’t know is that these were either omitted from, or low-balled in, the president’s own budget and in his $82 billion supplemental request. It’s as if Bush had budgeted for someone else’s presidency.

The president’s budget pays for only six months of the war in Iraq and completely overlooks the transition costs of Social Security reform. The administration always lied about the cost of the Medicare drug bill. Extending the tax cuts will produce a sea of red ink just beyond the Bush budget’s five-year window.

The House Republican budget is based largely on the president’s, adding a tiny bit of compassion and $50 billion for the war. Its deficits are still so large that, by the final year of the Bush administration, we will be paying more money to our nation’s creditors than to our own citizens in non-defense domestic discretionary spending.

According to the GAO, our current policies by 2040 will result in creditors getting all of our taxpayers’ money. There will be nothing left for national defense, Social Security, Medicare or veterans’ benefits.

Republican control of the executive and legislative branches means that they have the power to budget honestly for our nation and to reduce our deficits. President Clinton was able to achieve budget surpluses despite a divided government.

Consider Bush’s use, or non-use, of the veto. He is the first president since James Garfield in 1881 not to veto a single bill. And Garfield only served six months in office.

Bush has threatened to use the veto. He threatened to block any effort to repeal the 2003 Medicare drug law that added $8.1 trillion in unfunded liabilities to our nation. This one entitlement program will be twice as hard for future generations to afford as the alleged “crisis” in Social Security. So Bush brandished his veto pen to force Congress to spend money we do not have.

Take the rescission power. Few people realize that Bush could slash any program he wishes in the federal government as long as he has the approval of a simple majority in the Senate and the House. He also has “fast-track” authority and no worries about filibusters. In other words, Republicans already have the “nuclear option” to cut spending. They’ve just never used it. They don’t even want you to know they have it.

President Bill Clinton was able to pass 111 of his 163 rescission requests, saving taxpayers billions of dollars. Bush has requested no rescissions.

Bush himself repeatedly calls for line-item veto power in order to tame spending. But why wait years for a constitutional amendment when he has never used the power he already has? Delaying costs the nation more than a billion dollars a day in additional borrowing.

Bush may be a strong leader in the war on terrorism, but on budget deficits he is missing in action. The conservative Heritage Foundation and Cato Institute have criticized Bush for making big increases in spending — increases that far exceed those of the Clinton era. Meanwhile tax revenues as a percentage of gross national product are the lowest since Eisenhower days.

Democrats are used to Republicans routinely violating their term-limit pledges and ignoring their “Contract with America,” such as the Balanced Budget Amendment, but it is now evident that Republicans are doing serious damage to the nation with their irresponsibility on budget issues. As head of state and the leader of his party, the president is being particularly irresponsible.

Is spending the problem, as Republicans claim it is? If so, they have all the tools to stop it — more than any political party has had in modern times. Why won’t Bush use his budget, his veto, his rescission power, or simple restraint? Could it be that Republicans have fallen in love with “big government?” If so, they are refusing to pay her expenses.

Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) is a member of the Budget Committee and co-chairman of the Blue Dog Coalition.