People repeat themselves. It’s annoying as hell, but it’s a fact of life. Professors like to return to the same tired points and same overused examples in their lectures. Lovers like to try the same tricks in bed. Even newspaper columnists, normally creatures practically perfect in every way, have an annoying tendency to return over and over to certain hobby horses from which they have extracted mileage in the past. But when it comes to pure repetitive power, none of these individuals can hope to come close to our current president. In his sheer unoriginality, Mr. Bush puts us all to shame.
Witness, as a vivid example of this, the president’s latest budget, a $2.77 trillion monstrosity set loose on the general public this week. The president basically has two big ideas for how we ought to spend our money during the next 10 years. First, he thinks we should spend a bundle more on national security and defense. And second, he thinks we should spend a whole lot more on tax cuts.
Deja vu, anyone?
The only truly major discretionary spending increase in the budget is $60 billion or so in our homeland security and defense payments, not including an extra $120 billion for Iraq, which the administration has casually mentioned in the budgetary equivalent of a “P.S.” that it will be asking us for sometime later in the next year and a half.
That’s not the part that really rankles me, though. What rankles me is Bush’s delusional insistence that Congress make his 2001 and 2003 tax cuts permanent, to the tune of some additional $1.35 trillion — yes, trillion, with a “t” — in the next 10 years.
The man’s sheer audacity continues to floor me. Excuse me, Mr. President? That’s really what you want to do with $1.35 trillion? The projected budget deficit has come down from its record high but will nevertheless add up to more than $400 billion this year, still a pretty large hole by my book. To address this ocean of red ink, you have boldly decided to slash or entirely eliminate domestic spending programs — some 141 of them, to be precise. Of course, that’s nothing compared with the long-term entitlement cuts you want to ram through. You’ve proposed scaling back Medicare by some $36 billion between now and 2011.
But tally up all these spectacular savings — as they say, a billion here and a billion there starts to add up to real money — and even with the rosiest possible assumptions, the dollars you have saved us by slashing social services is still a tiny drop in the bucket compared with the cost of extending your tax cuts.
Did I mention that it will cost $1.35 trillion? With a T? Mr. President, have you lost your mind?
To be clear, Bush is right about one thing: We do desperately need to cut our long-term spending. As the baby boomers retire and our high-speed pork-barreling government hits the demographic equivalent of a brick wall, we will have no choice but to dramatically scale down our Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid payments. Already, the federal government spends a whopping nine percent of its entire federal budget, literally hundreds of billions of dollars every year, purely in interest payments on our mammoth debt. As the debt continues to grow, the interest we are forced to pay on it will slowly eat up Congress’ discretionary spending like a malignant cancer unless we can kick our addiction to deficits.
But here’s the key: Cutting a few federal programs, and saving loose change here and there, is absurd so long as the president continues to stand by his ridiculously generous tax cut — a tax cut that, it never hurts to point out for the 10,000th time, overwhelmingly benefits the wealthiest citizens in our society. Clinton economic adviser Gene Sperling aptly compared Bush’s latest budget to that of the “father of a financially stretched family [who] decides to live it up by leasing three fully loaded Hummers, and then saves money by skimping on peanut butter.”
The political reality of Bush’s budget is this: It is dead on arrival. The Republican congressional majority has enough problems on its hands without passing a budget that knifes vital social services while ramming through a costly extension of tax cuts for the wealthy. Bush never has to run for office again, but his fellow party members do. They will give him his tax cut extension, because “tax cut” is the most deliciously irresistible set of words in American politics. But they will pare down many of his budget cuts. Every Republican in a close House or Senate race will be able to go home to his or her district and talk about the wonderful community program he or she spared from destruction. And our national debt will continue to spiral out of control.
Bush has managed to yet again miss a rare opportunity for some — what’s the word again? — leadership. The only way fiscal sanity is ever going to be restored to the halls of Congress is through a trade. Republicans agree to do in their precious tax cuts in the national interest. Democrats agree to corresponding cuts in sacred cows like Social Security and Medicare. Everyone signs onto a bipartisan compromise and goes home happy, and the American government escapes bankruptcy.
But heck, I guess reruns are good, too. Why should Bush risk trying something new?
Roger Low is a junior in Branford College. His column appears on alternate Thursdays.