So-called conservatives' new mantra: Relax, borrow and spend

September 27, 2005|By Clarence Page

WASHINGTON -- One can only imagine what was going on in Russian President Vladimir V. Putin's head as he watched President Bush explain to reporters how he was going to cut taxes yet spend more money on wars and hurricane relief.

"It's going to cost whatever it costs," Mr. Bush said of Hurricane Katrina's relief and reconstruction efforts in a joint news conference with Mr. Putin last week. "And we should not raise taxes."

Without being asked, Mr. Putin stepped up to defend the president against Mr. Bush's fiscal conservative critics who fear he is spending our children and grandchildren's nest eggs. The old Soviet Union, Mr. Putin said, was so concerned about saving future generations from debt that "we have destroyed the country not thinking about the people living today." You know Mr. Bush is in a precarious place when his old pal Vlad has to step up to help defend Mr. Bush's spendthrift policies against Republican deficit hawks.

"Pork" is the money and other favors that politicians are able to dispense in order to gain favor with their constituents. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay was asked what pork he thought might be cut from the budget to help pay for Hurricane Katrina. He responded that he couldn't find any. Betcha didn't know our government had become so efficient.

This Congress only has necessary spending - if you're talking about what's necessary to please the folks back home.

Mr. DeLay brushed off as some sort of heresy the suggestion that he give up his "earmarks," a Capitol Hill word for expensive projects that, nevertheless, have not been requested by the administration nor approved by a congressional committee. The transportation bill contains 4,373 earmarks, up from a mere 538 in 1991.

Earmarks might not sound like much to most people, but in the world of Congress, those little darlings are cherished like baby pandas.

Rep. Don Young of Alaska, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said as much when a Fairbanks newspaper reporter asked if he might consider giving up his own earmarks for hurricane relief. "Kiss my ear!" he said. That must be an abbreviation for the $223 million he had earmarked for a bridge in the Alaskan outback that will be not crossed by much traffic.

And, yes, pork is bipartisan. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, said that she'd give up $130 million in special highway bill projects in her district to help the Gulf Coast, although she later amended her position to exempt $50 million earmarked to protect the Golden Gate Bridge from earthquakes.

But all of the earmarks total only $24.2 billion over five years, which is not much of a dent in the $200 billion that Gulf Coast relief was expected to total before Rita. Congress already has approved almost $62 billion of that. Yet Congress still is on track to cut various taxes by as much as $90 billion during the next five years.

How will the United States pay for the costs of wars and hurricanes without raising taxes or cutting many cherished programs? Two ways: cut and borrow. Congress plans to trim spending for Medicaid, food stamps and other social programs by $35 billion during the next five years.

When all else falls short, the United States will return with both hands out to borrow billions more dollars from the central banks of Japan, China and other foreign lenders, which raises our national debt.

Sure, Democrats and other liberals have hardly been tightwads when it comes to spending taxpayers' money, but at least they're up front about it.

"I am the child my parents warned me against," goes an old radical slogan from the 1960s. Mr. Bush and Co. are becoming the sort of "War-shing-ton" spendthrifts he used to warn us about when he was a presidential candidate. Looks like he didn't heed his own warnings. "Tax-and-spend liberals"? Meet the cut-borrow-and-spend conservatives.

Clarence Page is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. His column appears Tuesdays and Fridays in The Sun.

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