A comment from Newsweek’s Anna Quindlen, regarding the lack of response to George W. Bush’s fiscal irresponsibility: "[T]here’s no public shock and awe. The numbers are so large, the zeroes so endless…the national debt seems disconnected from reality, floating over Washington like a blimp at a sports event."
She’s right, of course. As a general rule, Americans don’t want to hear about the numbers; they’ll take hot rhetoric over cold facts any day. The more important issue, however, is that Bush & Co. understand this, and exploited it fully in the last election. We spent last year manipulated with emotional triggers - Homeland Security warnings, increased threat levels, Swiftboat lies, the travesty of gay marriage.
And now, thanks to the gullibility of 62 million Americans, we’re stuck in the same rut; George W. Bush isn’t going away.
And neither are the numbers.
From the New York Times (02/08/05): "The Bush administration offered a new estimate of the cost of the Medicare drug benefit…saying it would cost $720 billion in the next ten years."
Mr. Bush initially pushed the program as costing $400 billion over the first ten years; two months after its passage, the White House announced what it had known all along - the actual price tag would be $534 billion over ten years. But that included two years during which the program wouldn’t even be in effect.
The latest numbers put it at almost double the initial estimated cost.
Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-IL): "The new cost estimate destroys the credibility of the Bush administration. Officials were so far off in estimating the cost of the Medicare law. Why should we believe what they say about the financial problems of Social Security?"
Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH): "Since it was sold as a $400 billion program, that’s what we should keep it at."
Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA): "We can’t trust numbers provided by administration officials."
Prescription drug coverage for seniors is not a bad idea, but the Bush program certainly is. Anyone who’s ever run a business - or a household, for that matter - knows that when you buy in bulk, you should get a discount. In this case, we’re talking about a vast, nationwide patient base, and the first provision should have been the authority to negotiate a volume discount.
Licking the hand that feeds him, Mr. Bush’s program makes it illegal for the government to negotiate a volume discount.
Obviously, reducing the price of prescription drugs was never a part of the plan.
With his infamous tax cuts - which fueled our descent into record deficits - Mr. Bush tossed crumbs to the working class and served cake to the ultra-wealthy. With his prescription drug program, he held out a false promise to senior citizens while writing a massive check to the pharmaceutical industry.
The numbers so large, the zeroes so endless.
Mr. Bush has been quite extravagant about sending your tax dollars to his elite constituents. But there’s only so much borrowed money to go around, and some cuts had to be made.
His 2006 budget, announced this week, gives us further insight into his priorities.
From the Associated Press (02/05/05): "Bush would slice a $600 million grant program for local police agencies to $60 million next year. Grants to local firefighters, for which Congress provided $715 million this year, would fall to $500 million. He would eliminate the $300 million the government gives to states for incarcerating illegal aliens who commit crimes."
Further cuts will impact the Environmental Protection Agency, the Education Department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As oil prices have increased dramatically, he plans to cut home-heating aid for the poor. Not everyone, however, would suffer under Mr. Bush’s proposed budget. The military would see an increase of almost five percent. Money allotted for the capture of Army deserters would double.
In a common practice for this administration, two expensive items have not been included in the budget projections. In the words of Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), "The two issues that dominated the president’s State of the Union address - Iraq and Social Security - are nowhere to be found in this budget."
Iraq, at this point, is a self-perpetuating mess; the U.S. is committed for the foreseeable future. Given that, Mr. Bush has turned his second-term attention to dismantling the Social Security program. He tosses the word "bankrupt" around a lot, and his Treasury Secretary, John Snow, recently said that Social Security was "doomed by our country’s demographics and in need of wise and effective reform."
Wise and effective reform?
In a recent interview with Eric Bates of Rolling Stone, economist Paul Krugman explained the fatal flaw of Mr. Bush’s plan: "The only possible way that stock returns can be high enough to make privatization work is if the U.S. economy grows at three to four percent a year for the next fifty years. Social Security’s own trustees expect the economy’s growth rate to slow to 1.8 percent. If that happens…then privatization would be a disaster. And if that doesn’t happen - if the economy continues to grow at a steady rate - then the trust fund is good for the rest of the century, and we don’t need privatization."
He describes Mr. Bush’s plan as a "scam," a "lose-lose proposition, except for the mutual fund industry."
It’s like sitting down to a game of poker and having George W. Bush announce, "By the way, I’ve stacked the deck. Everyone okay with that?"
Unfortunately, 62 million Americans have already answered "Yes."