Monday, March 03, 2003

A Day Late, and $400 Billion Short (at least)

This week's column ran Monday morning instead of Sunday. The editor gave my usual space to Sen. Jon Kyl to spin his arguments about judicial nominations, which is probably why I didn't ride as well as usual that morning. Hard to keep up on a bicycle when you're sputtering with rage. You can do it in a car, but not on a bike.

When was the last time you read in a blog, "I was wrong?" Just asking.

Security and Pork

East Valley Tribune, Mar. 3, 2003

Hey, I was wrong, at least partially, so here's my correction.

In December I complained, with my usual vehemence, about GOP pork in the Homeland Security bill. The last-minute additions included money for Texas A&M University, making corporations that relocated offshore to avoid U.S. taxes eligible for homeland security contracts, and legal immunity for vaccine manufacturers.

Despite "iron-clad" promises to moderate GOP senators to revisit these riders, I predicted the GOP would play defense -- far easier legislatively than offense -- and block any repeal vote. Relying on GOP moderates almost always guarantees failure; as President Clinton's chief of staff, John Podesta, once remarked, if a strategy depends on GOP moderates, you need a different strategy.

The pharmaceutical giveaway was more outrageous than it first looked. Not only did the manufacturers get immunity, all possible vaccine claims got shunted to a federal compensation fund, for which the application deadline already had passed.

But in the just-passed omnibus fiscal year 2003 budget bill, Congress repealed the vaccine immunity provision through a rider buried in the bill. Good for the GOP moderates -- this time, anyway.

Of course, Congress let stand the Texas A&M earmark and offshore tax avoider goodies, and buried a number of new outrages amid all that spending. There's a special gift to Fieldale Farms, a Georgia poultry producer, requiring the Agriculture Department to allow "organic" livestock to be fed non-organic feed if organic feed is too expensive. Naturally, there’s no requirement that non-organic livestock and poultry sell for less than truly organic ones, and the idea that consumers should know what they’re eating is apparently less important than helping a business favored by Rep. Nathan “Let’s Make a” Deal, R-Ga.

But the truly remarkable stuff in the 2003 budget bill isn’t the minutiae, but the huge stuff "hidden in plain sight." The first is that a GOP House, a GOP Senate, and a GOP President all approved over $300 billion of deficit spending. We’re now hearing all sorts of justifications from the Republicans that budget deficits just don’t matter. This is extremely interesting, because these guys used to scream about the balanced budget amendment.

If deficits don’t matter, why amend the Constitution to prevent them? Yeah, I know: That was then, this is now.

What about the other GOP mantra, cutting spending? The 2003 budget increased spending of 7.8%, which on top of the increase in FY 2002, means that federal spending grew these past two years by 22%, the largest two-year increase since 1976-78.

And the budget proposed by President Bush for FY 2004 makes things worse -- even before considering the cost of war against Iraq, now estimated at $95 billion. The GOP thus plans a FY 2004 budget deficit approaching $400 billion.

The administration’s own numbers concede that their economic plans will increase the deficit each year for the foreseeable future, by amounts steadily increasing from $149 billion in FY 2004 to $241 billion in FY 2008, an additional $970 billion in debt. That’s nearly $1 trillion before paying for war in Iraq, plus Turkey, Afghanistan, missile defense, and fixing the Alternative Minimum Tax -- all virtual certainties, but omitted from Bush’s budget.

All this is happening with the GOP in complete control. So please stop blaming this administration's failures on Bill Clinton or the briefly-Democratic Senate.

If Bill Clinton had whined nearly this much about all the problems he’d inherited from George H. W. Bush -- the Balkans, a budget deficit of $290 billion, Haiti, Somalia, unemployment, Northern Ireland, the Middle East -- he wouldn’t call himself the "responsibility" President.

And neither should W. Unless -- don’t tell me -- "responsibility" was then, but "blame" is so now.

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