Archive for Monday, May 15, 2006

Bush, Congress fuel financial insanity

May 15, 2006


If there was any doubt that Washington politicians live in an unreal world, their latest efforts to cope with the government's finances should lay that to rest.

Exhibit 1: The $109 billion "emergency" spending bill that President Bush has threatened to veto, even though a majority of the funds are for fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Exhibit 2: The latest Republican effort to extend lower tax rates on capital gains and dividends while protecting 15 million middle-class taxpayers from a tax intended to ensure wealthy Americans pay their share.

Bush and GOP congressional leaders are trying to pass both the spending and tax measures for this year even though the bills are likely to increase current and future federal deficits. They're also trying - without success so far - to pass a budget for next year that limits spending.

The entire mess illustrates the haphazard way the federal government conducts its budgetary business as well as the mockery that Mr. Bush and the Republican Congress have made of the fiscal responsibility that was once a GOP governmental hallmark.

It's becoming ever harder to know where federal budgeting stands. Bush and GOP leaders say they're on track to cut the deficit in half by 2009, while budget analysts say the long-term outlook is as gloomy as ever.

Both may be correct. The strong economy may produce enough extra revenue to cut the short-term deficit. But extending the Bush tax cuts - while the costs of retirement and health programs rise - ensures it will explode again in the post-Bush era.

Meanwhile, the spending and tax measures may make things worse.

The fact that so much of the outlay for the war and such things as Hurricane Katrina is included in a supplemental measure allegedly for unforeseen emergencies is, in itself, revealing.

Since before the Iraq war began, the administration has withheld much of its planned war funding from the regular budget.

So when the White House and Congress hailed themselves last December for restraining spending in regular funding measures, they knew they'd have to vote extra money later for Iraq.

But the Senate was not content to limit itself to the administration's request for the war - as well as for hurricane relief, border security and pandemic flu preparation. It larded the bill with billions in special unbudgeted projects.

The House, beginning to show some sensitivity to federal overspending as its members prepare to face voters, is balking. So is the White House, with Bush vowing to cast his first-ever veto after more than five years of acquiescing in Congress' inability to exercise fiscal self-restraint.

Meanwhile, the White House and GOP congressional leaders agreed this week on a renewed effort to benefit upper-income taxpayers by continuing reduced taxes on capital gains and dividend income that are scheduled to expire at the end of 2008.

They included this in a bill to protect middle-class taxpayers from the alternative minimum tax, which is designed to limit the extent to which upper-income taxpayers can avoid taxes through loopholes.

Even some Republicans said the bill would offset December's savings and swell future deficits.

In case you think there's something not quite right about all of this, a new book by former Democratic congressional aide David Sirota suggests it's just the tip of the iceberg.

"Hostile Takeover" argues persuasively that the two parties have teamed up to permit corporate and personal "Big Money" to manipulate the political system to help their interests over those of regular citizens.

The book combines persuasive facts and overheated rhetoric. Republicans are his main target, but he also says "gutless Democratic politicians" have backed anti-middle-class measures, though most oppose the two current bills.

And he adds that much of the media have reinforced "the arrogant, conceited and self-important attitude among Washington insiders that has helped transform public policymaking into just another bidding war between moneyed interests."

In a different age, his book might be seen as just another leftist screed against the political establishment. But it's hard to find words too strong to denounce how governmental policy is made these days.

Carl P. Leubsdorf is Washington bureau chief of the Dallas Morning News.


xenophonschild 9 years, 4 months ago

This is the elephant crapping in the living room. We can moan and groan about other issues and personalities on this site, but the fiscal mess of our federal government is a burgeoning disaster. It won't hit home until the smoke-and-mirrors of runaway government spending dries up, which it certainly must, and companies have to start downsizing in response to falling demand.

It would be wonderful if we could grow our way out of the mess, or even at least partly, but that doesn't look like a coming reality. What must occur is taxes on the wealthy must be raised, for they are the only ones with any money. And spending must be curtailed drastically. No more pork barrel, no more phony employment on government contracts that add nothing to the GNP.

And, this is all coming at a time when the nation's infrastructure - roads, bridges, schools, power plants, oil refineries - are tottering, on the brink of collapse. We'll need to invest significant sums in infrastructure, and soon, but I fear the money won't be there because we have to shell out six or seven hundred billion dollars annually to foreigners as interest on our national debt.

Like I said, this is the big one. Most of our other problems - except the threat of terrorists and Islamic fundamentalism - pale by comparison.

xenophonschild 9 years, 4 months ago


I hope not too many of our regulars read this thread, because I agree with you . . . on everything but Social Security. I'm too much of a liberal Democrat, and idolize FDR, to forego that.

But everything else you said makes sense. We're not getting our money's worth from foreign aid; the UN is treating us like punks; our "allies" use our forces to protect themselves, then sell us out at the UN, and our political leaders are little more than street-walking whores.

I'm on lunch break; when I return to work, I have to call a number of state Republican parties and try to enlist them as clients. What I really want to tell them is to insist from now on that candidates serve only to serve the public interest, and quit being whores.

I frankly don't see anything good down the road from our debt mess. The bill coming due, and I don't have a clue how they're going to pay it.

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