Bush is no fiscal conservative

There is nothing like watching your party dominate politics on every important level of government for more than a year and see the opposition fail to obstruct any of their major policy goals. This is the state of the Republican Party, the party of conservatives, the party of the right-of-center. Few would argue with me on this much, at least.

But something is amiss, and it is starting to hit the right-wing press. Conservatives are starting to actually read the figures released by the government, and they are scratching their heads in disbelief. The left wing in this country has harped about unemployment for years and never fails to point out the 3 million jobs lost over three years. But what I’m talking about is government spending, government expansion – real conservative issues.

Conservatives have always pinned one of their priorities on restricting the size and spending of the federal government. In some ways I agree with this, in many ways I disagree. But it is indisputably one of the cornerstones of conservative thought.

Yet here we stand, with one (conservative) President George W. Bush signing into law the first ever expansion of a federal entitlements program by a Republican president. Here we are with deficits matched only by former President Ronald Reagan’s Cold War military expansion. But Bush’s spending splurges not only include extra spending on defense, but also an increase in nonmilitary spending by 21 percent over the last three years alone. In fact, Bush hasn’t vetoed a single bill that involved an expansion of government spending since he has entered the White House.

Even some of his ardent tax-cutting supporters are becoming concerned. Alan Greenspan, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, gave his critical support to Bush’s tax cuts in past years. Now, he is worried that massive deficit spending will threaten the economy in the long term, and recommends a balancing act. Nobel Prize-winning economist and libertarian Milton Friedman said the deficit we have now “is the single greatest deterrent to faster economic growth in the United States today.”

With two of the most important conservative economists in our country calling attention to the economic effects of a large deficit – higher interest rates, restrained growth, higher interest payments for the government – how is it that Republicans are not terrified of botching the president’s re-election? The answer is they believe people will keep their eyes on the performance while the man behind the curtain does his work. They want to hold up policy accomplishments that cost a lot of money as things to be proud of – Medicare, Iraq, tax cuts and the No Child Left Behind Act – while saying the deficits are likely to be self-correcting as income expands, or that we can simply cut spending later.

Bush has pledged to cut the deficit in half over the next two years, but has yet to explain what he can cut. Most of the new spending authorized by Congress involves long-term commitments, such as spending on entitlements (Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid). At the same time he says he will trim the budget, he is signing new commitments: a $400 billion Medicare bill spread over 10 years; $87 billion in extra spending for Iraq, bringing the total spent to near $150 billion; an energy bill slated to cost $31 billion that will be the key subject of the next Congressional session; and presiding over a 65 percent increase in federal education expenditures since he took office.

What will Bush cut from the budget? He can veto any spending bill that is too large for his conservative ideology, but he has not. Education, health care, transportation, community/regional spending, agriculture, energy, entitlements – Bush has raised spending in every one of these categories, whereas Ronald Reagan cut every one of these areas of nonmilitary spending in his first three years of office.

Say what you like about Reagan, but he walked the walk. He cut taxes and nonmilitary spending wherever he could, shrinking government the way he promised he would (at least in his first term). All our current administration does is talk conservative and return to being spendthrifts as soon as the public stops looking. Reducing the size of government and limiting its scope certainly has a lot of support behind it, but actually doing it requires integrity.

Mitch Mosvick is a guest columnist. He welcomes comments at [email protected]