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October 04, 2005

Why Oh Why Are We Ruled by These Thieves? (Budget Discipline Edition)

Edmund Andrews on the Republican fiscal order:

Emergency Spending as a Way of Life - New York Times : By EDMUND L. ANDREWS: IF brevity is eloquence, President Bush and Congress set a new standard of brilliance after Hurricane Katrina. In approving Mr. Bush's request for $51.8 billion in emergency assistance, Congress passed a three-page law with fewer than 700 words. Here are the details: $1.4 billion would go to the military, $400 million would go to the Army Corps of Engineers and $50 billion would go for anything else tied to what was described only as "disaster relief."...

The problem facing Mr. Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress is not the cost of Katrina itself. The problem is that, even before Katrina, Congress and the White House had lost their grip on the budget. In the last few years, huge chunks of the federal budget have been channeled through emergency supplemental bills... wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and counterterrorism efforts from Uzbekistan to Africa. The budget is also packed with fiscal time bombs - Medicare prescription benefits, tax cuts and health care costs for veterans - that are set to explode in the next few years....

In theory, emergency spending bills are for one-time, unforeseeable calamities. In practice, Mr. Bush has financed the entire war in Iraq, as well as the war in Afghanistan, with emergency supplemental requests that totaled $248 billion over the last three years. With no sign yet of a troop reduction in Iraq, the costs are likely to exceed $80 billion in 2006....

"There just is no vision for limited government," said Representative Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican.... "We've had very little support from the leadership on budget rules," Mr. Flake continued. "We've even given away the rhetoric. We've replaced the 'Freedom to Farm' bill with the 'Farm Security Act.' " The first one cut price supports. The second one increased them.

Mr. Bush has done little to slow the spending. He has yet to veto a single bill, including the transportation bill, which will cost $30 billion more than he initially demanded.... Permanently extending all of Mr. Bush's tax cuts from 2001 and 2003, a top Republican goal, would cost about $1.4 trillion over the next 10 years, plus interest. On top of that is the cost of fixing the alternative minimum tax, which was intended to prevent rich people from taking too much advantage of tax deductions. Because the alternative tax is not adjusted for inflation, it ensnares millions of additional families every year. Mr. Bush had said he would deal with the problem this year through a sweeping overhaul of the tax code. But tax reform has been delayed until at least next year, and many Republican lawmakers simply want to abolish the alternative minimum tax without making up for lost revenue. That would cost about $30 billion just for next year and as much as $1 trillion over the next 10 years, according to estimates by the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation.

Even in the United States, that's a lot of money.

But I wouldn't say that the Republican leadership has "lost its grip" on the budget. That implies the process is accidental. Say, rather, that the Republican leadership has ripped the budget steering wheel off of the steering column and thrown it out the window.

Posted by DeLong at October 4, 2005 06:50 PM