Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Hurricane Arnold Ziffel

N.B. A Green Acres reference.

Howard Kurtz has a run down of opinion on how much unnecessary spending will be attached, appended, affixed, added, (and I am still just on "A") to the Hurricane Katrina relief legislation. Some highlights:

Bill Clinton and a Republican Congress briefly achieved a balanced budget in the late '90s, but that was in part because a booming economy helped stave off more difficult choices. In the post-9/11 world, Bush's budgets have grown so much-- without a single veto-- that even some conservatives now label him a big spender. The pork-encrusted highway bill, with such "earmarked" goodies as an Alaskan bridge to a nearly deserted island, shows that the Hill isn't serious about spending restraint.

If by "booming economy" one means "Internet bubble" then yes, the budget was balanced briefly, until irrational exuberance collided with earnings per share. Investors learned in a hurry that a singing sock puppet is not the same thing as a business plan. It is also true that Bill Clinton was President at the time, we all remember that, but he was about as happy to cut spending, and work with Republicans, as the guest of honor is at a briss. Lastly, considering how adulatory the mainstream media has been to Bush #43, imagine the reaction if Bush made an effort (and he hasn't, unfortunately) to cut spending? In the aftermath of Katrina much has been made about the poverty of many in New Orleans; how much has been made of the fact that the federal government has spent $6 trillion dollars in the last 40 years in its "War On Poverty"?

Andrew Sullivan suggests the following:

Here's my basic list: postpone or repeal or radically scale back the Medicare drug benefit so it only affects the truly needy; restore the estate tax in full; phase in the means-testing of social security; end agricultural subsidies; kill off all corporate tax relief and the mortgage deduction and move toward a flat tax. That's a start. How many fiscal conservatives will bite these bullets?"

Bzzzzz! Sorry Andrew, wrong answer. Thanks for playing. As much as I hate to admit it, we'll have a flat tax about the same time the Stanley Cup Finals are played in Hell. The worst idea in that litany, and there is a surfeit of them, is ending the mortgage deduction which is the single most important factor in home affordability in the U.S. Most chilling is the idea of moving toward a flat tax, which sounds to me like eliminating beneficial tax breaks like the mortgage deduction, beginning means testing of social security, et al., and commissioning a blue ribbon panel to study the effects of a flat tax, guaranteeing it will never happen. Thank you, no, I remember 1986.

Steve Moore opines:

"When President Bush announced last Thursday that the feds would take a lead role in the reconstruction of New Orleans, he in effect established a new $200 billion federal line of credit. To put that $200 billion in perspective, we could give every one of the 500,000 families displaced by Katrina a check for $400,000, and they could each build a beach front home virtually anywhere in America.

"This flood of money comes on the heels of a massive domestic spending build-up in progress well before Katrina traveled its ruinous path. Federal spending, not counting the war in Iraq, was growing by 7% this year, which came atop the 30% hike over Mr. Bush's first term. Republicans were already being ridiculed as the Grand Old Spending Party by taxpayer groups. Their check-writing binge in response to the hurricane only confirmed, as conservative leader Paul Weyrich put it, that 'the GOP, once the party of small government, has lost its bearings and the Republican establishment doesn't seem to get the message that the grass roots of the party is enraged.' . . .

Mr. Moore is, disappointingly, absolutely right. Excluding the attacks of 9/11 and subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, fiscal restraint in the last five years has been non-existent. True, the deficit has remained pretty consistent as a percentage of G.D.P., but that metric depends upon a robust economy, something that can't continue unabated forever.

Porkbusters is now also tracking Congress and the cuts each member has agreed to make. Check it out and see where your representatives sit on the issue. If not, some day you will be able to travel the Edward Kennedy Expressway, take the Tom DeLay exit, cross the William Jefferson Clinton Bridge, to the Robert Byrd Hurricane Center.

In Fairbanks, Alaska.

Update: Ace has a stomach-turning list of pork from the transportation bill.

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