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What a Difference a President Makes

Republican Thrift Unwise and Ill-Timed

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Sunday, January 11, 2009

With Barack Obama set to take the Oval Office soon, Republicans have rediscovered the inner thrift they buried during the eight years of President Bush’s tenure and six years of a GOP-dominated Congress. With the president-elect outlining his plan for an enormous (and desperately needed) economic stimulus package, Republican leaders, along with a few Democrats, have begun protesting that it costs too much.

Although many noted economists have recommended a spending bill in the trillion-dollar range, House Minority Leader John Boehner was quick to oppose that price tag.

“An $800 billion-to-$1 trillion package, on top of the deficit we already have, you’re adding an awful lot of weight to the debt,” he said last week, adding, “You can’t buy prosperity with more government spending.”

Never mind that many economists say that you can. Never mind that for six free-spending years, the Republican majority rarely met a pork barrel project its members didn’t like or a budget plan that was too costly for their tastes.

But now that a Democrat is set to take the helm and millions of average Americans need help with health insurance or heating bills or groceries, the GOP suddenly worries about spending too much money. Now that experts are recommending Keynesian spending to avert a second Great Depression, Boehner and his cohorts can’t tolerate massive deficits.

Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

Think back to 2003, when Bush and his fellow Republicans pushed through a costly prescription drug bill for the elderly, though most didn’t need the help. At a time when an estimated 17 percent of senior citizens were too poor to afford their pharmaceuticals, a much smaller program would have been enough to solve that problem without creating a new entitlement.

In that bill, Republicans refused to allow the federal government to negotiate drug prices as private insurance companies do. The Bush administration also lied to Congress and the public about the cost, promising that it would add about $400 billion to the federal budget over 10 years even though it knew the real cost was considerably higher. An administration bureaucrat, Thomas Scully, even threatened to fire a subordinate if he told Congress the truth, that the drug benefit would cost between $500 billion and $600 billion.

However, the biggest budget-busting boondoggle of the Bush years was its reckless invasion of Iraq, which Americans will pay for, in money wasted and influence lost, for decades to come. Bush is the only president in American history to refuse to raise taxes to support the costs of war. As a result, that merry misadventure adds about $2 billion a week to the federal debt.

As I recall, Republican congressional leaders never raised much of a stink about those costs even as the administration was shelling out billions in no-bid contracts to favored corporations or losing track of millions in greenbacks shipped to Iraq. As an accounting matter, the Bush administration has never added the total tab for the war to its budget projections, acting like a foolish homeowner who refuses to acknowledge an imminent balloon mortgage payment. By some estimates, the eventual cost of the invasion will reach $2 trillion.

How many uninsured Americans could have been supplied with low-cost health care for that? How many roads and bridges might have been rebuilt? How many schools? How many homes retrofitted with insulation and solar panels?

Obama has been trying to win Republican votes for his stimulus package by sweetening the pot with tax breaks for business. He has also emphasized a plan to weed out wasteful government programs.

However, he shouldn’t allow naysayers to squeeze the massive spending that is now absolutely necessary to stave off disaster.

Republicans had several years to worry about the deficit; instead, they wasted Bill Clinton’s budget surplus and produced the biggest deficits in history. Given that history, Obama shouldn’t cave in to their dubious Johnny-come-lately thrift.

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. Martin County Democratic Executive Committee has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is Martin County Democratic Executive Committee endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)