Politics & Policy

Budget Busters

In Case You Missed It …

Did you see this headline in your morning paper: “Discretionary federal spending to rise in 2004 by more than double the rate of inflation”? Funny – neither did I.

Instead, one read a torrent of stories about the supposedly draconian Bush budget cuts. Even the Wall Street Journal claimed on its front page, “Budget for Harder Times Offers New Plans but Lots of Cutbacks.” Well I suppose some cutbacks can indeed be found in this budget by a careful reader. Some worker training programs will be cut back, and so will some housing programs and a few other items as well. Other than that, though, it’s up, up, up – just up less faster than in the giddy Clinton years.

Here are the real headlines.

Total Spending for Department of Education: Up 6%

Total Federal Spending: Up 5.1%

Total Discretionary Spending: Up 4.1%

Total Spending for Department of Defense: Up 4%

Oh and one more:

Despite War and Recession, Federal Budget Deficit as Percentage of U.S. Economy rises to barely One-Third Its 1983 Level.

The Wall Street Journal editorial page has a particularly good lead Review & Outlook this morning about the Democrats’ use of their newfound concern for the budget deficit to conceal their real ambition, which is to continue the mad spending of the late 1990s. Back then, discretionary spending was rising at a rate of 9% a year! And yet, Tom Daschle has the audacity to call this budget “a budget-busting epic disaster” by “the most fiscally irresponsible administration in history”! The truth is that if the Bush administration really were fiscally irresponsible, Sen. Daschle would like it a whole lot better.

Don’t Worry About the Germans

We journalists have a bad habit of equating foreign countries’ government of the moment with the nation as a whole. Which is how we got into the habit of saying “Germany” is resisting America’s leadership in the War on Terror when we really mean that “the politically desperate Schroeder government” is resisting it.

Last weekend’s electoral disaster for Schroeder should remind us all, though, that Germany is bigger than one opportunistic pol. In Schroeder’s home state of Lower Saxony – the state he governed for eight years – his Social Democratic party has just been routed from power. It is the party’s sixth consecutive defeat in state elections. The Christian Democrats, America’s friends, won 48% of the vote, a landslide in Germany’s multiparty system.

Of course, the German elections were fought mainly over economic issues.. Some suggest that this latest defeat may at last prod Schroeder into putting into effect the free-market job-creation program he promised – and never delivered on. If so, it is possible that Schroeder may lurch toward a even more radically anti-American foreign policy in order to buy himself political protection from his Green coalition partners. But be not alarmed: His government cannot last. And when it finally collapses of its own ineptitude and cynicism and promise-breaking, his probable successor, Bavarian chief minister Edmund Stoiber, will lead Germany – if not into the front lines of the War on Terror – at least back toward Germany’s traditional policy of loyal friendship toward the United States.

Book Notes

I will be speaking in Calgary, Alberta on Feb. 24. For details, see the website of my hosts, www.chipeur.com