Wednesday, April 11, 2001
George W. Bush contends that he can pay for his tax cut by cutting wasteful spending. "Washington's known for its pork," he said in announcing his plan. "This budget funds our needs without the fat." Dick Cheney says Bush will veto any "porked-up" appropriations bills passed by the Republican Congress. Such rhetoric is so familiar--and so discredited by recent Republican history--that it's hard to take it seriously. Bush is up against a long line of presidents who campaigned against "waste, fraud, and abuse" but left behind more of it than they found. Still, a new president deserves the benefit of the doubt--as does the new combination of a GOP president and a GOP-controlled Congress. Could Bush be serious about paring back unnecessary federal spending?
The president's budget itself doesn't address the topic of waste directly. However, the director of Bush's Office of Management and Budget, Mitch Daniels, has been explicit in his criticism of the most familiar kind of pork-barrel spending, the congressional practice of attaching "earmarks" to appropriations bills. The organization Citizens Against Government Waste says that there were 6,300 of these goodies last year and that they cost taxpayers some $18.5 billion. Without naming any names, Daniels has proposed eliminating about half of them, which he says would save some $8 billion a year. Unfortunately, Bush will never succeed in cutting that much Washington pork. The president can't veto a major appropriations bill just because he doesn't like the fact that it includes a few hundred thousand dollars to renovate a courthouse lobby or beautify someone's favorite highway. The best he can hope to do is persuade the committee chairmen to take it easy on the sauce.
A much larger and potentially more promising category of reducible government waste is what is sometimes called "corporate welfare." These are programs that exist primarily to benefit profit-making businesses. Most estimates put their cost in the range of $60-$70 billion a year. If Bush is serous about finding substantial savings in the $2 trillion federal budget, this is the place to start.
Will Bush go after this type of waste? One way to judge is to compare his budget proposal to the Cato Institute's list of the 12 worst corporate welfare programs. Cato is a libertarian group that tends to oppose most government functions beyond patrolling the coastline and keeping rapists off the street. But it has drawn up a good list of programs with little in the way of principled justification. If you really want to cut the federal budget, this is the stuff that's relatively easy:
1. Market Access Program (Agriculture Department)
This is a program that funds promotion and advertising on behalf of agricultural products. The money goes to organizations like the California Pistachio Commission, the Catfish Institute and the National Watermelon Promotion Board. Bush, who considers farmers an important constituency, actually increases MAP spending from $86 million in Fiscal Year 2001 to $92 million in 2002.
2. Advanced Technology Program (Commerce Department)
A research subsidy for companies like IBM and Motorola. Bush's budget proposal would phase it out entirely over the next several years by ending new grants. Funding drops from $132 million this year to $80 million next year.
3. Dual Use Applications Program (Defense Department)
This program, formerly known as the Technology Reinvestment Project, funds the development of military technologies that may have civilian spin-offs. In other words, it's a subsidy for commercial products. It used to be much bigger but has been scaled back already to $36 million. Bush's budget defers the question of what to do with it.
4. Export Enhancement Program (Agriculture Department)
The theory of this program is that European governments subsidize domestic agricultural producers, so our farmers need an export subsidy in order to compete effectively in foreign markets. Never mind that our government subsidizes agricultural production in many of the same ways the Europeans do. Bush leaves funding where it is, at $478 million. Because there's no adjustment for inflation, you could argue that this amounts to a tiny cut.
5. Maritime Administration Operating-Differential Subsidies (Transportation Department)
This program subsidizes U.S.-flagged ships with operating costs higher than those of foreign ships. The idea is making sure we maintain a U.S. merchant fleet. Bush reduces these subsidies from $107 million this year to $66 million by phasing out one of the two major categories of subsidy.
6. Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles (Energy Department)
This program funds efforts by the big three U.S. automakers to built a car that gets 80 miles per gallon. A billion dollars and several concept cars later, the average fuel-economy of U.S. cars is worse than it was in 1993 when the program started. Meanwhile you can actually buy a Honda Insight, a hybrid gas-electric car that gets 68 miles per gallon (Actual results may vary. See your Honda dealer for details.) The budget reduces funding for the PNGV from $261 million to $239 million.
7. Export-Import Bank
This outfit makes loans to exporters and purchasers of U.S exports. Such subsidies are said to "support American jobs." Which they do--in much the same way that simply donating several hundred million dollars directly to General Electric would support American jobs. Bush would reduce funding significantly, from $925 million to $698 million.
8. Overseas Private Investment Corporation
An agency that encourages investment in emerging markets by selling insurance against political risk, allegedly at no cost to the government. Bush would reduce its funding from $47 million to $23 million.
9. International Trade Administration (Commerce Department)
Yet another agency that helps U.S. companies compete abroad by working to lower trade barriers, promoting trade fairs, and giving them money to comply with foreign trade rules. Bush actually increases funding from $305 million to $321 million.
10. Small Business Administration (Commerce Department)
The SBA lends money to concerns that get turned down from banks. Bush obliquely criticizes this function in his proposal: "The 2002 Budget recognizes that some small businesses may have trouble accessing capital but by increasing fees, the budget does not require the Government to subsidize their cost of borrowing." The administration would reduce funding for the SBA from $937 million to $541 million.
11. Energy Supply Research & Development Program (Energy Department)
Funding for research into more efficient energy production. Bush would cut funding for most of the green efforts, such as solar and wind power, while increasing funding for "clean coal" technologies. In other words, he would reward an industry that supported him in the 2000 campaign at the expense of the enviros. Overall, Bush would reduce the program slightly, from $2 billion to $1.9 billion.
12. Agricultural Research Service (Agriculture Department)
This program pays for scientific, technical, and market research that makes farming more profitable. Bush cuts modestly, from $989 million to $946 million a year.
According to Stephen Slivinsky, a fiscal policy analyst at Cato, the total cost of these 12 worst subsidies is around $6.3 billion per annum. Bush's budget would reduce them by about $1 billion, to $5.3 billion.
So is that a good start or a cop out? On the one hand, Bush has proposed genuine cuts in some fairly worthless programs. Stephen Moore, another anti-spending conservative, praises his budget proposal as "moderately tight-fisted." On the other hand, Bush hasn't made a big point of arguing that the government shouldn't subsidize the private sector (possibly because he has never really believed it shouldn't). Bush has yet to use the incendiary but useful term "corporate welfare." Without leading a crusade, it seems unlikely that he will achieve much in the way of real cuts since all of the programs he targets have beneficiaries in his party and defenders in Congress.
The larger reason for skepticism about Bush's budget-slashing is his failure to propose cuts adequate to his agenda. If you look at the historical tables that accompany Bush's budget, you see that he proposes to reduce discretionary spending over the next five years to 13.6 percent of GDP -- a level last seen in the late 1940s. But he hasn't proposed the kind of specific reductions that would bring us anywhere near that level. Meanwhile, he has promised large increases in spending on education and the military, as well as for a new prescription drug benefit for the elderly, and a new system of private retirement accounts, and so on. After all that, there's supposed to be enough left over to fund a massive tax cut and pay down half the national debt.
What does one call that kind of budgeting?
In the days before fuzzy math, it was known as Reaganomics.
April 10, 2001
Money to hire police officers would be eliminated to pay for more federal prisons, more computers to streamline police work, more border patrol officers and more federal prosecutors to go after gun offenders under President Bush's new budget, officials said Monday.
The White House wants to scrap funding for hiring local police and cut grants to state and local law enforcement agencies to leave more money to pay for President Bush's top crime-fighting priorities.
The administration has asked Congress to slash funding for community policing programs by 17 percent, to $855 million from $1.03 billion this year. No funds would be earmarked for hiring police to work foot and bike patrols, a centerpiece of the program created during the Clinton administration that aimed to put 100,000 new officers on the streets.
White House and Justice Department officials said the Community Oriented Policing Services officer-hiring program had run its course.
"The COPS program was a three-year commitment made by President Clinton, and the three-year commitment has been honored," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer. "Programs never go away in Washington, and that's one of the reasons the government is so big."
The administration is shifting the emphasis away from hiring more officers to helping police departments purchase computer equipment that can ease police work, said Paul McNulty, acting principle associate deputy attorney general.
"We've tried to get more bang for the buck in the $855 million, even though it's down from the $1 billion last year," said McNulty. "The basic reductions would be in the hiring side."
McNulty said the program had essentially reached its goal, although there's a shortfall of 30,000 officers caused by delays in hiring, training and purchasing technology systems to free up officers from desk work.
"That whole effort is still ongoing and will result in reaching that target of over 100,000 at some time in the future," said McNulty, adding that communities promised grants will get their money.
James Alan Fox, a criminal justice professor at Northeastern University, called the Bush budget request "a step in the wrong direction," saying the hiring of more police contributed to a drop in crime.
"Technology is a great benefit to police departments, but there is no substitute for good old-fashioned police work," said Fox.
Hiring money this year totaled $408 million for community police and cops in schools. The Bush administration wants to keep the school cops component, but has not requested more than the $180 million allotted this year. The funding would pay for about 1,500 school officers.
Meanwhile, technology grants would double to $100 million and the administration wants another $255 million for crime lab improvements, upgrading record-keeping and building up DNA information.
April 12, 2001
"The president spoke to a meeting in Indiana ... ," the news said, and I wondered what the Big Dog was up to now. "And then," as the smug woman says in the IBM ads, "it hits you"— it's Bush!!! It's like the difference between House and house, or, in the teenage horror movies, "the killer is inside the house."
For anyone who cares about the economy, environment, health care, foreign policy, poverty or women's freedoms, the killer is inside the house.
Bush's reign has been unmitigated disaster, worse than I even imagined it could be. In every field, he's been a single-minded automaton working to pay off his corporate debts.
Not distracted by logic, science, decency, or compassion, he has blithely punched the company clock for big oil, big banks, big electricity—and lo and behold Exxon is the No. 1 Corporation in the world.
If President Bush's Texas reign is any indication, he will work tirelessly in the service of his corporate sponsors for a year and a half, do little else, and then stop. But he might not have the chance. The honeymoon may already be over. The opiated jackals of the press seem to have reached their stupidity saturation point; an accumulation of idiocy that's simply too great to ignore.
First there were the howls of protest over Bush's mild reneging on global warming, a priority only the delusional thought Bush had. Of course global warming was a safe thing to call him on—there is no absolutely no political will for meaningful legislation on global warming (p2) and India's and China's massive use of coal will render it moot anyway.
The great danger for Bush is that the press will go into a vicious feedback loop like they did about Gore's imaginary lies and, fed by Bush's steady linguistic lacerations, will decide the story is that our president is an imbecile.Since there is ample evidence for that, the stories, and the drumbeat, could become a steady roar. Bush's entertaining self-deprecation may not work for long. His "beloved" quotient is way lower than Reagan's; we like our presidents to be funny, but not be a joke.
All one has to do is to study our Loser in Chief's desperate eyes as he fumbles for some butchered junior high school cliché and then ... is simply finished. Once you get past the mindless hackneyed sound bite,there is nothing else. He has nothing else to say, because there is nothing in his head, so he immediately changes the subject or hustles away.
He is an embarrassment to our country.
En masse, Europe has come to the same conclusion—with Mr. Bush's repeated slaps to the face, punches to the stomach, and knees to the groin over global warming, missile defense and SALT and ABM treaty violations, spurning of Clinton overtures to North Korea, Russia and the Palestinians, reckless piggish tax policy, isolationism, and love of oil. Of course, they were horrified when he won anyway.
Bush's raison d'etre seems to be vengeance (once he's funneled enough billions into his corporate sponsors coffers) : vengeance against California for the audacity to vote for Gore, vengeance at the Harvard liberals who dared ridicule him for his retrograde conservatism—him, scion of Poppy, hard drinking, skirt chasing, fly boy—they laughed at him? Who were they to laugh at him? He would show them all. Much of Bush's motivation can be traced back to this humiliation at the hands of overbred prep school kids. They can be savage to a West Texas cracker, as my Texan friends have explained to me (esp. during the 60s). Lacking true physical or academic gifts, Mr. Bush applied himself to relentless ingratiating and politicking, which is still the secret of his success. His primary reason for running for president at all was to avenge his father's loss, but his vast shame at his father's loss shows a misplaced sense of entitlement—the presidency isn't a right—it has to be earned every time and its loss to a better man isn't greatly shaming or necessarily a personal rejection.
It is this deep conviction of the Bush superiority—this business of character, that's so inexplicable, coming from a 15-year nasty drunk who had every door opened for him, every failure cushioned and reversed; from a man whose preordained right to win wouldn't be prevented by a little thing like a half million votes.
Any true man of character could never have assumed the presidency after losing by such a popular margin, let alone fought so virulently and dishonestly to wrest it from his opponent.
This obsession with cleansing the White House of Clinton's real and imagined sins is perplexing, when Bush's nights of debauchery and vomit far surpassed Billy Boy's ( not to mention Bush's girlfriend's alleged abortion ).
Maybe it's his born-again religiosity from which he derives such arrogance, hubris, and hypocrisy.
The Enron palm-greasing (lifting price-gouging controls on power) has devastated the California economy and bankrupted PG&E, which since all things roll downhill from California, will percolate malignantly through the rest of the economy. Bush may get the full scale recession he's been promoting. The bankruptcy bill payoff to credit card companies ( his largest contributors ) has a particularly bitter irony coming from a man who would have been forced into bankruptcy three times without rich family "friends" eager for the cachet and influence of the Bush name. He directly financially benefits from most of his legislation, just as he did in Texas. In these billions of dollars of sleazy corporate payoffs, Mr. Bush has in only two months become the most corrupt president in American history.
In the spy scandal, Bush's vast overreaction was unwarranted and unwise : in our burrowing under the Russian embassy in Washington we were committing a far greater transgression. Since they have far more spies than we do, ejecting 50 of each leaves us at a grave disadvantage. In fact, it may have been an excuse for getting rid of Democrats in the Moscow embassy who would oppose Mr. Bush's idiotic missile defense project and reject a harder line. Meanwhile Putin has assumed control of the other two television networks, and is moving to place the entire press under his thumb.
On the other hand, his weakness and toadying to China after the downing of our spy plane by an incompetent Chinese fighter jock is frankly dangerous—if you talk tough, and then act craven, you embolden your enemies to greater outrages. The bullying Chinese, who've killed up to one-fifth of Tibet in a half century of physical and cultural genocide, and constantly threaten Taiwan (separate since 1897), must be coddled—an embargo, after all, would force Wal-Mart out of business in four months. We are now wholly dependent on cheap Chinese goods, more than foreign oil. For a decade we've allowed a grubby obsession with trade to obscure our support for human rights, but even Clinton sent two carrier groups to the South China Sea when the Chinese lobbed missiles 22 miles from Taiwan's cities and had 150,000 troop "exercises" across from Taiwan.
Regarding our wondering at how Bush could graduate from two Ivy League schools without being able to read ( perhaps with massive donations- It's Only Words ), we got an interesting answer from Herb Epstein :
"How does a "mentally challenged" legacy student like George W graduate from Yale when he could barely read and write? I was a graduate student at Yale and did some teaching while Bush was an undergraduate "legacy student." A certain number of places were guaranteed to sons of alumni. The short answer is that it was very difficult to give any Yale student a failing grade for a course and almost impossible to give them enough failing grades to prevent their graduating. I'm an expert on this subject because I tried to give two failing grades ( out of about 75 students ) in a course I taught and graded on Soviet foreign policy. ( No, Bush was not one of them ).
Suffice to say that even after I proved plagiarism to the satisfaction of a board of professors, the university administration reversed my grade and the board's ruling and allowed the legacy student to pass with the minimum grade. They didn't dispute that he had plagiarized. The fact that he had previously been reprimanded for the same offense somehow had no bearing. Needless to say this kid's family give big bucks to Yale before and after the incident.
Next comes the question of how George W got into Harvard B School. He first applied to U of Texas Law School and was turned down. Despite the fact that it was his home state, he had no legacy. He had to compete. Undoubtedly he was rejected because of his poor undergraduate record and his low LSAT scores. How could George W, who was a history major, and who couldn't get into the U of Texas Law School, gain admission to the most competitive, prestigious grad school in the country—Harvard B school.?"
*** Herb Epstein
On another front, Bush is moving against the 'Day After' pill, because it's use would prevent illegitimacy ... because that's how he came to power.