A View From The Handbasket

Thursday, February 02, 2006
Running out of steam (Part 2)
Posted by neros_fiddle at 8:01 PM
While the President seems energized and engaged talking about his Pax Americana and impending defeat of global tyranny, his administration is the one that can't seem to make the trains run on time. (I guess he skipped that part of the playbook.) Indeed, the second half of the SOTU, dealing with domestic policy, was a simple laundry list of recycled ideas, pipe dreams, head scratchers and total bullshit.

Perhaps underscoring this rhetorical limpness, his speechwriters front-loaded this section with the words "strengthening," "healthly," "vigorous," "growing faster," and "performance that is the envy of the world" all in the first two paragraphs. I half-expected "Bob" from the "natural male enhancement" commercials to run onto the podium and wave a jaunty hello.

Bush made an attempt at a unifying theme:

Protectionists want to escape competition, pretending that we can keep our high standard of living while walling off our economy.

.. but this was half-hearted at best. So let's look at his "to do" list.

I urge the Congress to act responsibly, and make the tax cuts permanent.

He can dress this up in "helping the working man" clothes all day long, but that doesn't change the fact that this massive giveaway has done more damage to the government's fiscal health than anything in recent memory (including Reagan). Want an example? Remember the big Social Security panic last year, where Bush went on the road to convince everyone that SS was doomed and that people should dump their money in the stock market instead? Well, here's an interesting little chart:

Rolling back just a portion of the Bush tax cuts would fund Social Security well into the 22nd century. But that doesn't help the rich, to whom tax breaks are worth more than SS. And it doesn't help the big brokerage houses eager to make money off Bush's "personal accounts" model (which would actually have left SS in worse shape than doing nothing at all).

But the Bush privatization plan died a quick death (which Bush ruefully noted Tuesday night to sarcastic cheers from the usually spineless left of the chamber). So let's move on.

Every year of my presidency, we've reduced the growth of non-security discretionary spending, and last year you passed bills that cut this spending.  This year my budget will cut it again, and reduce or eliminate more than 140 programs that are performing poorly or not fulfilling essential priorities.  By passing these reforms, we will save the American taxpayer another $14 billion next year, and stay on track to cut the deficit in half by 2009.

It goes without saying that we had budget surpluses before Bush took over. But beyond that, Bush portraying himself as some sort of tight-fisted deficit hawk is laughable. (Invented history? Indeed.)

Here's how much I love you people. I went to the Office of Management and Budget site, where you can download Excel spreadsheets of all the mind-numbing tables from the President's budget documents. I picked the historical numbers, in constant dollars (so inflation's not a factor). I then created a friendly bar graph:

Notice what happened to tax revenue when Bush took over. Notice what happened to spending. Notice the ever-deepening hole we're creating for ourselves and the generations a-comin'.

Here's the painful part. The House just submitted a budget slashing $39 billion over five years from student loans, Medicare, Medicaid and farm subsidies, which Bush seems thrilled about. Yet they're getting ready to pass $70 billion in tax cuts over the same period. I don't think you need a graph to see where this is going.

What about the really big items in the budget, like Social Security and Medicare? His plan to gut Social Security in tatters, Bush unveiled a bold new initiative:

So tonight, I ask you to join me in creating a commission to examine the full impact of baby boom retirements on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

Applause, applause, applause.

On other subjects, Bush endorsed finding a way to let companies hire cheap Mexican labor without worrying about the INS:

And we must have a rational, humane guest worker program that rejects amnesty, allows temporary jobs for people who seek them legally, and reduces smuggling and crime at the border.

The pre-speech hype suggested that we would hear a lot about health care. But the actual speech didn't have much, and what was there was seven kinds of vague. Here is every last word on health care:
Keeping America competitive requires affordable health care.  Our government has a responsibility to provide health care for the poor and the elderly, and we are meeting that responsibility. For all Americans -- for all Americans, we must confront the rising cost of care, strengthen the doctor-patient relationship, and help people afford the insurance coverage they need.

We will make wider use of electronic records and other health information technology, to help control costs and reduce dangerous medical errors.  We will strengthen health savings accounts -- making sure individuals and small business employees can buy insurance with the same advantages that people working for big businesses now get. We will do more to make this coverage portable, so workers can switch jobs without having to worry about losing their health insurance.  And because lawsuits are driving many good doctors out of practice -- leaving women in nearly 1,500 American counties without a single OB/GYN -- I ask the Congress to pass medical liability reform this year.

This is the exact same mumbo-jumbo he's been pushing in the last several SOTU speeches. His only policy proposals seem to be health savings accounts (Otherwise known as the "you're on your own, good luck" plan -- how someone who can't afford health care in the first place is supposed to benefit from a savings account for health care is a mystery. It's like opening a checking account for a guy without a job.) and the ever-popular liability reform, which protects insurance company profits at the expense of malpractice victims' rights.

Then there was the big headline-grabber:

And here we have a serious problem:  America is addicted to oil[...]

[N]ew technologies will help us reach another great goal:  to replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025. By applying the talent and technology of America, this country can dramatically improve our environment, move beyond a petroleum-based economy, and make our dependence on Middle Eastern oil a thing of the past.

I was all set to rail about how misleading all this was and much of our imports come from outside the Middle East and work up a really good head of steam...

But then the White House said, "Ha! Just kidding! We didn't really mean it!" (See post below.) So never mind, then.

The man who embraces intelligent design theory, rejects global warming and censors any mention of it from goverment reports, and has crippled American genetic research with his pandering to the religious right then called for better science education:

First, I propose to double the federal commitment to the most critical basic research programs in the physical sciences over the next 10 years[...]

[W]e need to encourage children to take more math and science, and to make sure those courses are rigorous enough to compete with other nations.

Of course, he got in a quick shot in the culture wars, bashing "activist courts" who want to "redefine marriage," then lauded Roberts and Alito, followed by the Manimal Strategy.

Then, buried like a footnote, a brief mention of the complete devastation of a major American city:

So far the federal government has committed $85 billion to the people of the Gulf Coast and New Orleans.  We're removing debris and repairing highways and rebuilding stronger levees.  We're providing business loans and housing assistance.

That's it, then he segued into some half-baked education and AIDS babble that his heart clearly wasn't in. Unlike 9/11, this disaster didn't further Bush's agenda, so he clearly wishes it would just go away. There's really no other way to interpret this. He spent more time talking about his cherished illegal wiretaps than about the wrecking of New Orleans and hundreds of thousands of lives.

And that's pretty much it, apart from some closing guff about how he's like Lincoln and Martin Luther King as the Congresspeople angled for the best spot in the glad-handing line. Then off to bed, to sleep the sleep of the just.

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