Overall, Rove seemed to offer more of the same, albeit well put. Why give this speech now? There was no recent economic numbers on which to hang the speech. Sure, the tax cuts were extended last week, but as Grover Norquist told ($) the Wall Street Journal in today's editions, "that's last year's homework turned in late." Indeed. It's not only late, but short: what happened to making the tax cuts permanent? Rove didn't call for that.
Okay, so Bush inherited a poor economy, and tax cuts have aided Americans in launching a solid recovery. And free trade is also a boom to the economy. No arguments here, but again, nothing new.
And then we come to Rove's claim that this administration has restrained spending. This is where Rove's confidence becomes gall, and his wonkish command of details becomes spin. Yes, the Bush administration has reduced non-security discretionary (NSD) spending and continues to do so. Yet by the looks of their own numbers, NSD spending increased for the first four years of the Bush presidency. Annenberg's FactCheck.org reported after the State of the Union that NSD spending is only 16 percent of the overall budget -- which has increased by 42 percent during the Bush presidency.
As for the big picture, Rove said that "the administration issued 39 veto threats on 6 major spending bills. And Congress responded to those veto threats by restraining spending at the level proposed in the President's budget." Perhaps Rove can parse this statement into a truth, but it is laughable on its face. The $295 billion highway bill only made the President's maximum of $284 billion through budget gimmicks. And the $284 billion number was a moved goalpost: the President previously threatened to veto a bill so large.
I didn't get a chance to ask which bills Rove had in mind, but Jeanne Cummings of the WSJ asked about the transportation bill, which notoriously exceeded the President's target. Rove replied that Congress "did reach the target" -- through "face saving gestures."
It's wonderful that the White House and Rove are doing their jobs and defending their economic policies. But that's basic stuff. Our expectations have fallen so low that we're excited when the administration does things it should have been doing all along. On the major problems for the President -- spending and immigration -- the White House still appears to be in denial that problems even exist. They may finally acknowledge a problem with immigration tonight, but if Rove's speech is any indication, they still believe that their budget performance is slim and trim.
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