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Bush’s Budgets: No Room at the Inn

MoneyIn his press conference yesterday, President Bush was quick to criticize Congress for 9,800 earmarks contained in the omnibus appropriations bill, a bill he will nevertheless sign along with another $70 billion in unrestricted funding for the Afghanistan war and Iraq occupation. Congress wasted time and money, he said.

Another thing that’s not responsible is the number of earmarks that Congress included in a massive spending bill. Earmarks are special interest items that are slipped into big spending bills like this one — often at the last hour, without discussion or debate. Congressional leaders ran in the last election on a promise that they would curb earmarks. And they made some progress and there’s more transparency in the process, but they have not made enough progress. The bill they just passed includes about 9,800 earmarks. Together with the previously passed defense spending bill, that means Congress has approved about 11,900 earmarks this year. And so I’m instructing Budget Director Jim Nussle to review options for dealing with the wasteful spending in the omnibus bill.

What Bush didn’t say, and what CNN and CBS failed to report was picked up by PBS’ NewsHour. NewsHour guests noted that the earmark dollars represented about $7 billion in a total budget bill of $555 billion, that the number of earmarks have been reduced by the Democratic Congress by 25 to 45 percent, and that the transparency Bush cited was part of the earmark reforms Democrats promised and implemented.

The new transparency requires that every earmark be individually identified by project, amount and most important, by author. We know whom to hold accountable if someone claims a particular project is "wasteful" or unworthy, and not all of them are, as the NewsHour guests noted.

CNN missed this because the only people they quoted, after showing Bush’s statement, were Republicans Tom Coburn and Reagan’s former budget director. And no one noted that we spend over $10 billion every month in Iraq, or that the Administration was unable to account for about $9 billion in weapons they lost, partly during General Petraeus’ watch. WaPo’s coverage is little better, citing silly examples but providing no perspective on the relative amounts.

Bush praised the Congress for enacting a one year "fix" in the Alternative Minimum Tax, while "not raising taxes." But he failed to mention that when Congressional Republicans adamantly refused to support Democratic efforts to replace the revenues from the AMT, the Republicans increased next year’s budget deficit by about $50 billion.

The Republican Party showed it doesn’t care about fiscal responsibility by putting out contradictory hit pieces on two Democratic Congressmen. It criticized one for not voting for the AMT fix (because it didn’t have replacement revenues) while criticizing the other for voting for the AMT fix without replacing the revenues, claiming he abandoned the Democrats’ pay-as-you-go promise (h/t dakine01). The hit piece neglected to mention that Republicans forced that situation by holding the AMT fix hostage, refusing to support Democrat’s efforts to replace the lost revenues by taxing hedge fund earnings as ordinary income or closing off-shore tax shelters for the same wealthy crowd. But what’s a little hypocrisy and another $50 billion in deficits when the Republicans have already added trillions during Bush’s terms?

Remember, it would have cost only $35 billion to provide five years of health coverage to an additional 4 million children — and expecting mothers — who currently have no health insurance — but that’s an expense Republicans claim we can’t afford. The President will now spend his Christmas celebrating the fact that Congress failed to override his two vetoes of SCHIP. This Christmas/holiday season those 4 million children and their families will find there’s no room for them at the Republican inn, but there’s always the emergency room or the stable.

The President will also celebrate his "victory" in getting $70 billion for his wars with no Iraq withdrawal strings attached, but his discussion of this funding was divorced from his chastising Democrats for their wasteful spending. Our President noted that his record budget deficits are now less than his own people projected, but of course none of the over half trillion authorized for the wars so far has ever been counted in the budget process. That bill will be handed to our children and grandchildren, but for now, our President’s priority is to make sure everyone worries about how the 110th Congress wasted the taxpayers’ money on earmarks.

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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