This morning, The American Spectator hosted a Newsmaker Breakfast with OMB Director and former Iowa congressman Jim Nussle, during which he emphasized the need for Congress to vote on Iraq supplemental funding and made his best attempt to defend the Bush administration's spending record to a room full of skeptical conservatives.
Citing Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Nussle said that if the pending $108 billion request was not met, the troops would begin to run out of funds by June 15. When I asked him when the ultimate drop date was -- i.e. when they could no longer shift around funds from one account to another to fund the troops - he said the end of June, or July 4 at the latest.
Nussle argued that normally supplemental bills come up as a surprise, but this is something that Congress knew was in the pipeline for 16 months, so they should bring it up for a vote. His position is that anybody can disagree with the politics of the war, but once we have troops committed, we have to meet their needs.
Nussle reiterated that President Bush would veto the Farm Bill immediately upon receiving it in the next day or two, and that Congress plans to immediately vote on whether to override the veto.
When Nussle was asked whether deficits matter, he said they do, but noted different types of deficits. On Sept. 10, he said, we were running a fiscal surplus, but there was a deficit in our defense and homeland security capability, which we had to increase. This is an argument that the Bush administration has employed consistently to explain away its atrocious spending record, but it doesn't really fly. Even if one were to concede that all of the homeland security spending actually went to homeland security - quite a concession - it doesn't explain the expansion of the rest of government. Furthermore, if we are to continue with Nussle's line of logic that we had a defense and homeland security deficit, did we not have a surplus in other parts of government that could have been used do pay for the increased defense expenditures? Did Bush and Republicans need to go through with No Child Left Behind? Or the Medicare prescription drug bill?
Toward the end of the session, Nussle took issue with a chart showing that federal spending had skyrocketed by $867 billion during the Bush years (vs. a $577 billion increase in revenue), by saying that most of that increase was due to "automatic" (i.e. mandatory) spending that they had no control over. Quin Hillyer rightly noted that even discretionary spending growth has far outpaced the rate of inflation since 2001. Nussle became quite agitated. I would only add that it's a total copout for the Bush administration to absolve itself of responsibility for the rise in mandatory spending, because he had a Republican congress for 6 years and could have pursued entitlement reform. Instead, he pushed through the largest expansion of entitlements with the Medicare drug plan, which greatly exacerbated the "automatic" spending problem.
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