Some of my friends often accuse me of being too hard on the president. (I'll now pause to allow my liberal readers to stop laughing.) More often than not when this happens, the subject being discussed is federal spending.
Almost everyone will concede I'm right on this issue (i.e., that Bush spends money like a drunken frat boy in a Tijuana whorehouse), even stalwart Bush apologists like Sean Hannity. Often, however, they'll shrug it off with a glib "nobody's perfect" kind of dismissal. It's as if his fiscal policy is a drawback, but no more significant in the overall scheme of things than his syntactically-challenged oratory style.
Would that it were so. This is not some trivial flaw in an otherwise idealized conservative leader. Fiscal policy is THE BIG DEFINING ISSUE of traditional conservatism. Bush and the congressional Republicans are not only failing to live up to conservative ideals, but are gleefully running roughshod over them, running the country with fiscal recklessness that makes Lyndon Johnson look like Jack Benny.
The numbers are here in this PDF from the Heritage Foundation, and they're not pretty. I'd recommend that everyone download it, read it in its entirety and keep it for future reference, but I'll go ahead and include a few highlights just for the hell of it.
First, let's go ahead and toss out everything that the administration and congress might be able to make excuses for: entitlements, defense spending, homeland security and Katrina relief. Here's what's left.
That's a 21% increase in everything else during the Bush administration... after adjusting for inflation. Cute, huh?
Total federal spending has grown twice as fast under Bush than it did under Clinton, now amounting to nearly $22,000 per household. And again, this is not all about military spending. The Bush years have seen a 137% increase in education spending (think "No Child Left Behind"), a 342% increase in "Community and Regional Development" (good thing those "liberals" aren't in charge of our money, huh?) And a 29,022% increase in "Energy" spending, whatever the hell that is. And no, that is not a typo.
In a budget this size, much of which is mandated, pork barrel projects still account for a tiny fraction of the overall pie, but they're nonetheless a glaring and indicative symptom of what's gone wrong during the Republican's slide into fiscal hell. Here's how pork projects have fared during the Bush years.
This is indefensible, and Republicans have to stop defending it. It's insufficient to pay lip service to fiscal prudence, bemoan the current state of affairs, and then brush it off with "But Democrats would be worse."
Here is what (to me) is the most disturbing chart of all. It shows what's going to happen if entitlement programs are not reformed and continue on their current growth paths.
Granted, these costs are mandated, so it's not entirely fair to lay the blame for them at Bush's feet. Nevertheless, Bush and the GOP-controlled congress have done precious little to ameliorate these trends.
To be fair, there's stuff in this report that's going to displease Democrats as well. For starters, the report shows a strong correlation between tax revenues and economic growth. Bush's tax cuts helped to increase federal revenues by 14% in 2005. The current budget deficits are not a function of tax cuts, but rather of a spending policy that is completely out of control.
Also, it's going to be tough for Bush's critics to pimp their same shopworn arguments about how the costs of "tax cuts for the rich" are borne on the backs of the little people. Anti-poverty spending has soared 39% under Bush, representing an all-time high of 16% of the federal budget.
Still, this is a sad portrait of what has become of America's "conservative" party. For my part, I'm going to wait and see what effect the Abramoff scandal and Boehner's election to majority leader have on congressional governance. They've got one last chance, and I hope they take it, although I'm not optimistic. If things don't change and change significantly, I'm going to seriously consider voting for Democrats in the mid-terms (I nearly always vote a straight Libertarian ticket when it comes to congressional candidates.)
No, the Democrats may well not be any better. But the people who have done this do not deserve reelection, period.