“Behind Our Backs” – Bush torpedoes the economy


Richard Moore

Delivered-To: •••@••.•••
From: "Butler Crittenden" <•••@••.•••>
Date: Tue, 15 Apr 2003 15:48:49 -0700


    Behind Our Backs
    April 15, 2003

As the war began, members of the House of
Representatives gave speech after speech praising our
soldiers, and passed a resolution declaring their
support for the troops. Then they voted to slash
veterans' benefits.

Some of us have long predicted that the drive to cut
taxes on corporations and the wealthy would lead to a
fiscal dance of the seven veils. One at a time, the
pretenses would be dropped -- the pretense that big tax
cuts wouldn't preclude new programs like
prescription-drug insurance, the pretense that the
budget would remain in surplus, the pretense that
spending could be cut painlessly by eliminating waste
and fraud, the pretense that spending cuts wouldn't
hurt the middle class.

There are still several veils to remove before the true
face of "compassionate conservatism" is revealed, but
we're getting there.

I've always assumed that at some point the American
people would realize what was happening and demand an
end to the process. Now, though, I'm not so sure, and
that wartime vote illustrates why.

A digression: we have entered a new stage in the
tax-cut debate. Until now, the Bush administration and
its allies haven't made any effort to explain how they
plan to replace the revenues lost because of tax cuts.
Now, however, party discipline is starting to crack: a
few Republicans in the House and Senate, and many
erstwhile supporters on Wall Street are beginning to
notice how much we're looking like a banana republic.

That House budget was a halfhearted attempt to assuage
those concerns; for the first time, the Republican
leadership went beyond generalities about cutting
spending to a list of specific cuts.

But the result wasn't very convincing: it still
contained several dollars in tax cuts for every dollar
of spending cuts. Furthermore, the list of cuts -- in
child nutrition, medical care for children, child-care
assistance and support for foster care and adoption
(leave no child behind!) -- was clearly designed to
suggest that the budget can be balanced on the backs of
the poor, without any significant cuts in programs that
benefit the middle class.

Aside from its mean-spiritedness, this suggestion is
simply false: our deficits are too large, and our
current spending on the poor too small, for even the
most Scrooge-like of governments to offer additional
tax cuts for the rich without raising taxes or cutting
benefits for the middle class.

So it's not too surprising that the House budget failed
to win over the doubters, though it's unclear what will
happen next. In a bizarre piece of parliamentary
maneuvering, wavering senators agreed to vote for a
budget resolution that would allow $550 billion in tax
cuts, in return for a gentlemen's agreement from Bill
Frist and Charles Grassley that the actual sum won't
exceed $350 billion.

I'm no expert on this, but given the underhanded
tactics that were used to push tax cuts through in 2001
-- the Senate's cap on the 10-year tax cut was evaded by
making the whole thing expire after 9 years -- I suspect
that the spirit, if not the letter, of this agreement
will somehow be violated.

But back to the amazing spectacle of the war's opening,
when the House voted to cut the benefits of the men and
women it praised a few minutes earlier. What that scene
demonstrated was the belief of the Republican
leadership that if it wraps itself in the flag, and
denounces critics as unpatriotic, it can get away with
just about anything. And the scary thing is that this
belief may be justified.

For the overwhelming political lesson of the last year
is that war works -- that is, it's an excellent cover
for the Republican Party's domestic political agenda.
In fact, war works in two ways. The public rallies
around the flag, which means the President and his
party; and the public's attention is diverted from
other issues.

As long as the nation is at war, then, it will be hard
to get the public to notice what the flagwavers are
doing behind our backs. And it just so happens that the
"Bush doctrine," which calls for preventive war against
countries that may someday pose a threat, offers the
possibility of a series of wars against nasty regimes
with weak armies.

Someday the public will figure all this out. But it may
be a very long wait.

Copyright 2003 
The New York Times Company |