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Irresponsible Overspending or Hypocritical Budget Cuts?

September 24, 2007 - by Donny Shaw

You may have noticed Monday’s dustup between Congress and the Administration in which President Bush called on Congress to be clean and Congressman David Obey (D-WI) called the President a rooster. Scathing remarks, but they were only meant metaphorically. As the week winds down and the October 1st budget deadline approaches and passes, however, things will get more serious and we can expect to hear some real nasty, non-metaphorical slander tossed around Washington. Prepare yourself to hear such vileness as “hypocrite” and — gasp — “fiscally irresponsible.”

Fiscal year 2007 will come to a close at the end of this week, which means that Congress needs to quickly come up with some way to fund the government for another year. Unfortunately, they are behind schedule with their regular appropriations process and they will have to pass a continuing resolution by the end of this week that temporarily funds the entire government at the same level it was funded at for 2007. While the continuing resolution will make sure that nobody misses their social security checks and the like, it will also give Congress and President Bush some extra time to showcase their competing proposals for the 2008 budget. This is where we can expect the real cruelty.

Citing “excessive,” “runaway” spending, President Bush has threatened to veto at least nine of the 12 appropriations bills that Congress has proposed. All combined, the bills would spend $22 billion more that President Bush has proposed for 2008. You can already hear him saying it: “Congress’ budget is fiscally irresponsible.” Speaking to a group of business leaders on Monday, Bush made his case against Congress’ budget proposal:

>The plan they have put forward includes an increase in discretionary spending that is nearly $22 billion more than my budget request. Some in Congress will tell you that $22 billion is not a lot of money. As business leaders, you know better. As a matter of fact, $22 billion is larger than the annual revenues of most Fortune 500 companies. And the $22 billion is only for the first year. With every passing year, the number gets bigger and bigger, and so, for the next five years, the increase in federal spending would add up to $205 billion. And the only way to pay for such a large spending increase is to raise taxes on the American people.

According to The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, President Bush’s budget outlook numbers are “based on misuse of budget numbers, including the use of a large gimmick that distorts the numbers in the President’s budget.” Their analysis shows a couple interesting things. First, after accounting for inflation, Congress isn’t proposing a spending increase as much as President Bush is proposing a precipitous spending cut. This is where Congress — and even conservative think tanks — call out Bush on being a hypocrite. The Cato Institute, for example, wrote on Monday: "After six and a half years of spending faster than LBJ, President Bush has decided to proclaim himself the guardian of the taxpayers, accusing Democrats of ‘working to bring back the failed tax-and-spend policies of the past.’ And they go on to note that in his 6-year presidency he has “raised annual federal spending by more than one trillion dollars, and he’s not planning to reduce spending, just to slow the growth from a massively bloated base.”

Furthermore, if you consider the projected rate of inflation as well as the projected rate of population growth, Congress’ Budget proposal actually maintains the current, Bush-approved spending level over five years, while Bush’s budget proposal cuts spending by a whopping 7.5 percent. Considering population growth in budget projections shows the most honest picture of changes in federal spending because it considers changes in the number of people falling under the jurisdiction of the government. According to the CBPP, even President Bush agrees that this is the most honest way examine spending trends. They cite a Dallas Morning News article from 1999: “Wednesday, Governor Bush said an ‘honest comparison’ of spending growth should take inflation and the state’s increasing population into account.”

As the budget debate rages on until appropriations bills are finally signed into law (or not) expect Congress to continually remind us that the $22 billion they have proposed above Bush’s budget is to be invested in popular programs like health care for veterans, education, medical research and infrastructure improvements. They haven’t come to an agreement on how to move forward with getting the $22 billion past Bush’s veto threat, but some House Democrats are considering packaging threatened bills together with ones that Bush will feel pressured to sign, like the one containing the veteran’s healthcare funding.

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