I tried to come up with an accurate, yet pithy, summation of George W. Bush's speech to a joint session of Congress last night -- but it's so much better to let someone speak for himself than to try to put words in his mouth. With that in mind, I think I'll start off with an excerpt from the White House Press Release on the subject:
"[The president's] budget increases spending for Social Security, Medicare and entitlement programs by $81 billion, and increases discretionary spending by another $26 billion, a four percent increase that means government spending will grow at more than the rate of inflation."
As late as yesterday, I still had friends telling me that the Republicans were the party of smaller government -- the party that would rein in federal spending -- that all I had to do was wait and see -- that when I opined that the Republicans wouldn't do anything to cut government, I was talking through my hat.
More Social Security. More Medicare. More entitlements. More discretionary spending. Increased government spending, even accounting for inflation. Tucked into subtle phrases in the speech, we find more spending for the failed War on Drugs, more spending for welfare, more spending for, well, pretty much everything.
Is this what my friends mean by "smaller government?" Is this what they expected when they told me last November that they had to vote for George W. Bush because he was the only "smaller government" candidate who had a chance to win?
It's after midnight as I write this -- but when I'm done, I think I'll break out the Rolodex, start ringing up my friends, and whispering two words into the phone:
Yes, I know that the Democrats want even more spending and even smaller tax cuts. That's beside the point. The GOP controls the House of Representatives, the Senate, and the presidency. They don't need Democratic support to pass the budget they want. Compromise, at this point, is not a requirement.
Not a single Democratic vote is required to pass the next budget. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that the president's budget proposal -- specifics of which will be released tomorrow -- reflects what he wants. Given the glowing early reviews from the GOP's congressional leadership, it reflects what they want, too.
So, what do the Republicans want? In two words, more government.
Outside of some money for military pay raises and equipment improvements, every one of Bush's spending proposals, as described in the speech, flies in the face of the Constitution and of Republican rhetoric going back to Barry Goldwater's 1964 presidential candidacy -- and unless the early trial balloons were false, those military spending proposals aren't an increase, but a reallocation of current military spending levels.
"The highest percentage increase in our budget should go to our children's education. ... during the next 5 years, we triple spending, adding another $5 billion to help every child in America learn to read. Values are important, so we have tripled funding for character education ... [W]e have increased funding to train and recruit teachers."
Try as I might, I can't find the section of the Constitution that enumerates any federal power to provide for education. And unless I've missed something, the 10th Amendment -- you know, the one that says the federal government can't do anything that it isn't specifically tasked with doing in the Constitution -- doesn't seem to have been repealed.
The Republicans know this, of course. They've been bellyaching for two decades about it, and promising to eliminate the Department of Education and sow salt on the earth where it once stood. This hardly seems an auspicious beginning to that process. Perhaps Bush is hoping that all of the DoE bureaucrats will die of paper cuts incurred while riffling through the fresh stacks of Federal Reserve Notes he's having sent over.
On almost every budget item mentioned in the speech -- from education to Social Security and Medicare and beyond -- Bush proposes more spending and more federal intervention in areas where the federal government has no business in the first place.
For the first time in nearly half a century, the Republicans control the machinery of government. Their word is law. It's time to follow through on decades of promises to be fulfilled "some day," and last night's speech is a clear indication that they have no intention of doing so. "Some day" is here -- and the Republicans are fresh out of excuses.