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Waging Trillion Dollar Wars on a Credit Card

Bush 11/07If there is an award for hypocritical projection, our President won it yesterday when he described Congressional Democrats as behaving like a teenager with a credit card.

Congress’ immaturity, he said, consisted of forcing him to veto the bipartisan $606 billion spending bill for health care, education and job training. But Mr. Bush identified only a small fraction — about $10 billion — as wasteful earmarks.

Having spared the taxpayers from $10 billion while denying them nearly $600 billion in programs both parties approve, the President then signed another bill authorizing $459 billion for the Defense Department. That authorization did not include any funding for America’s wars but did include hundreds of earmarks and billions for defense programs of dubious merit.

Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz recently summarized The Economic Consequences of Mr. Bush in Vanity Fair:

The damage done to the American economy does not make front-page headlines every day, but the repercussions will be felt beyond the lifetime of anyone reading this page.

[We have] a tax code that has become hideously biased in favor of the rich; a national debt that will probably have grown 70 percent by the time this president leaves Washington; a swelling cascade of mortgage defaults; a record near-$850 billion trade deficit; oil prices that are higher than they have ever been; and a [weakened] dollar . . .

And it gets worse. After almost seven years of this president, the United States is less prepared than ever to face the future. We have not been educating enough engineers and scientists, people with the skills we will need to compete with China and India. We have not been investing in the kinds of basic research that made us the technological powerhouse of the late 20th century. And although the president now understands—or so he says—that we must begin to wean ourselves from oil and coal, we have on his watch become more deeply dependent on both. . . .

Remember the presidential debates in 2000 between Al Gore and George Bush, and how the two men argued over how to spend America’s anticipated $2.2 trillion budget surplus? The country could well have afforded to ramp up domestic investment in key areas. In fact, doing so would have staved off recession in the short run while spurring growth in the long run.

But the Bush administration had its own ideas. The first major economic initiative pursued by the president was a massive tax cut for the rich, enacted in June of 2001. Those with incomes over a million got a tax cut of $18,000—more than 30 times larger than the cut received by the average American. The inequities were compounded by a second tax cut, in 2003, this one skewed even more heavily toward the rich. Together these tax cuts, when fully implemented and if made permanent, mean that in 2012 the average reduction for an American in the bottom 20 percent will be a scant $45, while those with incomes of more than $1 million will see their tax bills reduced by an average of $162,000.

Jonathan Alter on Countdown last night discussed the hypocrisy of the President’s projection and misplaced priorities by reminding us that in all previous wars, our presidents asked the country to accept higher taxes to help pay for those wars. Those presidents believed in shared sacrifice and being fair to future generations. But not George Bush.

To date, Bush has asked Congress to approve over $800 billion for US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but never once suggested raising taxes to pay for those authorizations. And there is no end in sight. The White House has yet to provide a credible rebuttal to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office report that predicted the likely costs of America’s two wars, including the interest to borrow the money instead of raising taxes to pay for them, would approach $2.4 trillion by 2017 (h/t TPM). Even that estimate probably fails to account for long-run health care costs for returning soldiers, costs we are only beginning to understand.

The CBO estimate differs in what it counts but is the same order of magnitude found by a new report produced by Democratic Staff that pegged the long-run costs of the war to at least $1.6 trillion. The latter estimate, which may eventually grow to double that amount, includes effects on oil prices and lost economic activity, as well as interest on borrowing, which are the kinds of economic side effects responsible policy makers consider when analyzing long-run consequences of their decisions.

But this Administration doesn’t talk about such consequences. Instead the White House charged the Democrats’ estimates are partisan and thus not to be believed. And that’s probably true, since we can’t blame the entire increase in oil prices solely on the Iraq war. If oil prices reach $100/bbl, another cause will be the broader failure of Bush/Cheney foreign policies throughout the Middle East, along with an appalling absence of responsible policies on global climate change and Cheney’s disdain for alternative energy.

None of that matters to this Administration. Our immature President must keep telling himself that it’s the Democrats who are behaving like teenagers with a credit card when they authorize billions for education, health care and job training, while spending $2.4 trillion for unfunded wars is fiscally responsible. And it’s Democrats who are responsible for exceeding his total budget requests by the sum of $22 billion, but we’re not to consider the larger sums that his appointees squandered in the Iraq occupation, including losing track of billions worth of weapons.

I don’t understand how anyone from this Administration, especially this President, can stand before any group of adults (or teenagers) and not be laughed out of the room when he chastises the opposition for behaving like irresponsible children.

Photo: Bush speaks to business leaders, 11/13/07; AP/Michael Conrad.

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John has been writing for Firedoglake since 2006 or so, on whatever interests him. He has a law degree, worked as legal counsel and energy policy adviser for a state energy agency for 20 years and then as a consultant on electricity systems and markets. He's now retired, living in Massachusetts.

You can follow John on twitter: @JohnChandley