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Bush’s legacy: ‘A fiscal meltdown’

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When President George W. Bush unveiled his $3.1 trillion budget on Monday outlining his fiscal plan for 2009, it makes you wonder why anyone would even want to aspire to the presidency post-Bush. The nation’s finances are a disaster thanks to tax cuts, large increases in defense spending and the booming costs of health care, social security, etc., that the nation is obligated to uphold.

Bush’s 2009 budget predicts a $410 billion deficit (not including war costs in Iraq and Afghanistan), and even then is unrealistically low because of inflated revenue projections, low-balling military expenses, and projected cuts that aren’t likely to be approved by Congress. In reality, then, the 2009 deficit will most likely exceed the $413 billion deficit record set in 2004 — the largest ever at the time.

What makes the current deficit even worse is that it’s the sixth year in a row that Bush has proposed large deficits. Since Bush took office, the federal debt will have climbed to $9.7 trillion — a rise of $4 trillion during his administration. That’s astounding since the nation had accumulated only $5.7 trillion in all the years before he took office.

What can be done? The American people have to pay attention to what gets funded and who gets tax breaks, and then vote their preferences by picking the candidate that best reflects their priorities.

In the Bush plan for 2009, for instance, interest on the national debt has grown to $260 billion, about the same amount that will be spent by the departments of Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior and Justice — combined. Good grief. So much for Republicans being the party of fiscal responsibility.

Nor is Bush learning. On the contrary, his plan proposes to make permanent his first-term tax cuts beyond their 2011 expiration date, even though that would come at a cost of $635 billion through 2013.

While he would extend tax cuts to the wealthy, as well as many corporate tax benefits, according to the Washington Post his budget “eliminates programs that provide food for poor children, research assistance to manufacturers, career and technical education grants, weatherization assistance, community development grants, graduate medical education at children’s hospitals and a public housing revitalization program that the House just authorized.” He would raise $2.1 billion in health care fees on non-disabled veterans through 2013 and, the Post reports, his budget projections would freeze domestic programs not related to defense or homeland security at $393 billion between 2010 and 2013 in order to allow him to claim his long-term proposals would eventually end in a balanced budget.

“It’s not going to happen,” Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., the ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee. Gregg called Bush’s budget “more of an academic exercise” than a “real budget,” adding: “Maybe a $400 billion deficit will get people to notice, but in an election year we haven’t seen much seriousness, and this budget certainly falls into this category.”

All this means that the nation’s fiscal woes will fall to the next president, who will be hamstrung by a weakened economy, two on-going wars, a huge national debt, a discredited dollar, growing needs at home, a broken health care system that has been underfunded during Bush’s presidency, and a political culture promoted by Republicans that has made raising taxes (which used to be the responsible thing to do when used to balance the budget and the mainstay of Republican philosophy in the pre-Reagan years)  an act of national sabotage.

The next president and Congress, says Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D.), will “inherit a fiscal meltdown. It’s just as clear as it can be.”

Knowing that puts a damper on promises made by candidates of either party, and places a priority on American voters to pay special attention to how their preferred candidates will handle fiscal affairs.

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