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Bush is horrible, Democrats are worse, where do we go from here?

September 25, 2005|By TIM ROWLAND

All things being equal, we might - key word "might" - have been able to afford the war in Iraq.

Or we might have been able to write a blank check for Hurricane Katrina cleanup in the Gulf of Mexico.

Or we might, although I have my doubts, have been able to somehow work out a payment schedule for the staggering costs of the new Medicare drug plan.

But absolutely no way can we pick up the tab for all three - which have a near-term potential cost of close to $1 trillion - without doing serious damage to our nation on down the road.

Give credit to Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, who was one of the conservative House members this week who stood with a group of his colleagues and waved warning flags visible to anyone who cared to watch. In breaking with the White House' "all is well" mantra, they listed a number of viable areas where budget cuts could be made - few of which are likely to be enacted.

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Particularly mind boggling is that the president's lieutenants can stand up in front of the cameras and, with a straight face, talk about Bush's "deficit reduction plan."

There is no deficit reduction plan. There is a deficit reduction wish, but no plan. Only in government could people look at an increase and find a way to call it a decrease. The deficit was slightly less mammoth than was originally forecast, so they call it a "decrease." Please. Bottom line, since Bush took office, spending has increased 33 percent, and this is before any storm cleanup or Medicare drug bills come due.

Intelligent people can argue the war in Iraq one way or the other. What intelligent people cannot disagree on is this: It was a huge gamble, betting that our guns and bombs could counteract two millennia of history, wipe away human hatred like dust off a vase and create a democracy out of authoritarian clay.

Now, knowing this was a huge and even improbable gamble, there is absolutely no excuse for not having an exit strategy, should we discover that we had indeed bitten off more than we could chew. Professional leaders would have had a Plan B, a pre-planned way to disengage with dignity, as heaven-help-me-I'm-quoting-Nixon would say - a Plan B that didn't involve watching impotently and helplessly as billion after billion is wired oversees in exchange for the caskets of some of our best young men and woman.

Of course the Medicare Drug Plan is another reason to weep, as, truth be told, are most programs born of political pandering and midwifed by misinformation. The president hoodwinked members of his own party into voting for the plan, his aides saying it would cost $395, when in fact the figure was $534 billion. Potential whistleblowers who wanted to warn of the deception were threatened with being fired.

Will the drug benefit even do any good? It depends entirely on your own, very specific situation. At public meetings around the country, seniors are being told this: Sign up for the benefit, so on the chance that it actually helps you, you will be in the system.

So here we have wars costing $300 billion and a new entitlement program costing $534 billion, and then along comes Katrina. A poor initial response by the president to the disaster meant that - to try to recapture his political standing - he had to basically tell the nation "money is no object" in rebuilding the gulf.

So bottom line, here alone is $1 trillion in spending that did not exist at the beginning of the decade. Some of the spending is unavoidable, and when that happens, you find other areas to cut back. But we haven't.

Our debt is now broaching $8 trillion, or $25,000 for every man, woman and child in America. But since every man, woman and child in America can't pay, someone else must step in and finance our debt, and to date the Chinese have been only too happy to do so.

Imagine how this could play out: "You know Uncle Sam, we've decided we're going to take over Taiwan by force. And if you try to stop us, well, I guess we'll just have to call in this $750 billion loan we've given you..."

Which could easily throw our economy for a loop, as we desperately scramble for capital and credit we don't have.

You don't hear much from the "Supply Siders," much anymore, except maybe on CNBC, where they spend each evening merrily predicting a rise in the market the night before it goes down. The tax breaks we've afforded business have not been entirely unproductive, but instead of hiring and investing, most businesses still seem to be laying off workers and hoarding piles of cash.

Supply-side can only succeed with spending discipline. Since we had no discipline, our economic theory didn't work and not only have we spent gobs of money foolishly, we are locked into much of that foolish spending for years and decades to come.

Pure and simple, it's becoming apparent that the Bush presidency is a failure, the Republican equal of the Carter Administration. In fact, the only greater failures than Bush are the Democrats themselves. This would be the perfect time for a party with vision to step forward and chart a fresh and workable course. But this is a party so bereft of ideas they best they can do is sit around grousing over a judge's view of abortion. To them, it would be worth seeing the nation go down in flames, so long as the president got the blame. That's obscene.

I have so little faith in any of them, I appall even myself.

There must be leaders out there, somewhere. Or maybe even someone who has simply been in charge of managing a household budget. We better find this person soon, because before long the financial situation will be so far beyond the pale that no one with qualifications will want to touch it.

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