Another Perspective

Our Sad State of Affairs

Summing up some major highlights of fiscally reckless 2005.

By 12.27.05

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Summing up some major highlights as the year comes to a close:

- We're now a total of $8 trillion dollars in the hole at the federal level and President Bush can't find his veto pen;

- Medicare is going bankrupt and not a dime is being set aside to meet the gargantuan needs of the nation's retiring baby boomers;

- In Iraq, U.S. soldiers are fighting door-to-door, establishing what looks to be a Shiite theocracy, while Iran and North Korea, two of the craziest regimes on the planet, are developing nukes;

- And here at home our crack counterterrorism agents are spying on librarians and wiretapping vegetarians.

With federal spending, the budget was in surplus when Bush was sworn into office in 2001 and the national debt was $5.7 trillion and shrinking. Today, after four-plus years of near-monopoly rule by a party that prides itself on being tight-fisted, the national debt has jumped by 40 percent and the red ink is flooding over in all directions. In the past three months, for instance, the federal budget has been in the red by an average of $2.83 billion per day.

All told, a budget analysis by the libertarian Cato Institute shows discretionary spending increased 48.5 percent during George W. Bush's first term, more than twice as much as the total 21.6 percent increase in discretionary spending that occurred during Bill Clinton's two terms. Adjusted for inflation, total federal spending expanded at an annualized rate of 5.6 percent per year under Bush, compared to a 1.5 percent average annual increase in the Clinton years.

"He is the first president to serve a full term without vetoing anything since John Quincy Adams, who served from 1824 to 1828," reports columnist Bruce Bartlett, a former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Economic Policy at the U.S. Treasury in the George H.W. Bush administration, regarding George W. Bush's unwillingness to use his veto pen to obtain some semblance of fiscal restraint.

"The White House's excuse is that it is difficult to veto one's own party's bills," explains Mark Alexander, executive editor and publisher of the Federalist Patriot. "But this just doesn't wash. Franklin D. Roosevelt vetoed 372 bills from Democrat-controlled Congresses."

On Iraq and Afghanistan, Linda Bilmes, a Harvard lecturer in management and budgeting and a former Assistant Secretary for Management and Budget at the Commerce Department, calculates that it might well cost $1.4 trillion if those two wars last another five years. On average, that's $4,700 per capita, $18,800 for a family of four.

But that calculation is a guess. As Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld explained at a news conference: "As we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns -- the ones we don't know we don't know."

On the issue of federal spying on Americans, here's the Fourth Amendment: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath of affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

Instead, we have a Quaker meeting in Lake Worth, Florida being monitored and classified as a "threat" by the U.S. military, according to a secret 400-page Defense Department document obtained by NBC News, because the participants were planning a protest against military recruiting at local high schools

Another government document labels the philosophy of the Catholic Worker movement, founded in 1933 during the Depression and best known for its soup kitchens in the most run-down sections of many cities, as "semi-communistic."

The Orwellian argument from the White House is that we can protect freedom by eliminating it. I think Benjamin Franklin got it more right, declaring in 1759, "Those who would give up essential liberty in the pursuit of a little temporary security deserve neither liberty nor security."

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About the Author
Ralph R. Reiland is the B. Kenneth Simon professor of free enterprise and an associate professor of economics at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh.