Saturday :: Dec 6, 2003

True Conservatives Restless Tonight, Bush-wanna!

by pessimist

Leading conservatives have unleashed a furious backlash at George W. Bush over last month’s passage of a Medicare prescription drug benefit that could cost $2 trillion over 20 years, after three years of sharp increases in federal spending.

“The president isn’t showing leadership,” laments Brian Riedl of the Heritage Foundation, who calculates that federal spending per household is at a 60-year high. “Conservatives are angry.”

THE WALL Street Journal editorial page blasts Bush for a “Medicare fiasco” and a “Medicare giveaway.” Paul Weyrich, a founder of the modern conservative movement, sees “disappointment in a lot of quarters.” Bruce Bartlett, a conservative National Center for Policy Analysis economist, declares himself “apoplectic.” An article in the American Spectator calls Bush’s stewardship on spending “nonexistent,” while Steve Moore of the Club for Growth labels Bush a “champion big-spending president.”


Bush, who has catered to the GOP’s ideological base, felt that he had built up enough goodwill that he can afford to stray from conservative orthodoxy, as he did on Medicare. This anger does not represent a political danger for Bush, for grass-roots conservatives remain intensely loyal to Bush for his tax cuts, the Iraq war, and religious-based antiabortion efforts. Conservative leaders state that the ire arises in the short term from conservative intellectuals.

I personally think that it is more than this. As I have tried to point out several times now, some conservatives are acting in the interest of the nation over ideological concerns. It is these people that I have labelled True Conservatives. Their discontent with Bush's profligate spending could spread to a popular Perotista-style backlash if spending continues to swell, pushing up deficits and interest rates.

Bush’s policy options are already limited by this drunken-sailor spending. Economist Bartlett states, “the budgetary situation is getting so off track that you simply can’t propose any more tax cuts without looking like a complete idiot.”

Imagine the uproar if Hillary had said this!

This week the discontent surged to the surface when White House economic aides summoned conservative economists to allow them to vent their rage. But according to participants, the session failed to calm the waters. Borrowing a page from Ross Perot, White House budget office deputy director Joel D. Kaplan displayed a chart showing that, outside homeland security and defense, spending was falling. But under intense grilling from economics experts, one participant recounted, Kaplan was forced to admit that his figures covered only the official budget items and did not include the series of “emergency” supplemental measures requested by Bush each year.

The House is scheduled to vote on a massive spending measure for 2004 that Congress negotiated with the Bush administration. The bill includes billions of dollars for lawmakers’ pet projects, which has irritated fiscal conservatives, some of whom have threatened to join Democrats in opposition.

This, dear readers, is what a True Conservative looks like in action. Certainly, many of these pet projects are beneficial to GOP goals, but rather than merely go along, these men choose instead to remain true to their principles, which is that spending should be cut in tight financial times such as we are currently enjoying.

Federal spending has increased 23.7 percent since Bush took office. “In the last three years we’ve had the biggest farm bill, the biggest education bill, the biggest foreign aid bill and now the biggest health care bill in 30 years,” said Moore of the free-market Club for Growth. “There’s now not any pretense that Bush is committed to smaller government.”

Remember - this was spoken by a conservative supporter of the GOP.

The Medicare prescription drug benefit is expected to cost $400 billion over 10 years, and could go as high as $2 trillion over another 10 years according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. Former House majority leader Richard K Armey (R-Tex.) wrote to the Wall Street Journal before its passage, saying “the conservative, free-market base in America is rightly in revolt over this bill” and that “conservatives would be smart, and right, to reject it.” Some conservatives, including Sens. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and Don Nickles (R-Okla.), did just that.

The White House holds a different view. White House press secretary Scott McClellan said this week, “The president has provided strong leadership to make sure we are doing what it takes to win the war on terror, our nation’s highest priority, while holding the line on spending elsewhere in the budget.” Bush aides say he cut spending 6 percent in 2002 and 5 percent in 2003, and 2 to 3 percent for 2004, excluding spending on defense and homeland security — this after a comparable increase of nearly 15 percent in these areas in the last year of the Clinton administration.

“I nearly laughed out loud,” said Heritage’s Riedl when a White House official presented this analysis to a meeting he attended recently. Riedl calculates that 55 percent of all new spending in the past two years, or $164 billion of $296 billion, is from areas unrelated to defense and homeland security. Unemployment benefits are up 85 percent, education spending up 65 percent. “It’s really an across-the-board thing,” he said. Federal spending is now over $20,000 per household in today’s dollars for the first time since World War II — a jump of $4,000 in the past four years.

Discretionary spending, which grew 2 percent annually during Clinton’s presidency, has grown at 6.5 percent under Bush. And federal spending as a percent of gross domestic product, which decreased under Clinton, has edged back up to 20 percent under Bush.


David Hogberg writes in the American Spectator: “He has vetoed no appropriations bill, and has actually encouraged profligacy by his eagerness to sign budget busters like the Medicare Bill, Farm Bill, and Education Bill.”

Grover Norquist, who heads Americans for Tax Reform, agrees that “government spending is growing too rapidly.” But he said Bush should not get all the blame. “I am disappointed that the movement, starting with me, has not yet figured out how to assign accountability and responsibility for spending,” he said. Norquist said Bush “needs to make the case next year that this is what he is working on.”

A Republican pollster working on the 2004 campaign said the spending issue is growing but has not yet reached a point of concern for Bush. “I’m seeing it percolating in primary polls in Republican segments, but they’re not blaming Bush as much as the whole system,” he said. “In the short term, voters are going to say spend what you need to spend on the war.”

Note that the only thing it's OK to spend more on is war.

While still favorable toward Bush despite this increased spending, no one can predict whether this will remain the case. Weyrich, who leads the Free Congress Foundation, said it could be well into Bush’s second term before conservative voters rebel against the growth of government. “I’ve helped to start revolts against many administrations over the years, and the level of outrage just isn’t there where you could oppose the administration,” he said. “People are upset about it, but they weigh it against what they consider to be Bush’s leadership in Iraq and elsewhere. ... They say, ‘Well, we don’t like this, but it’s not enough to cause us to bolt.’ ”


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Conservatives blast Bush on spending

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