The Spectacle Blog

Roving Afield

By on 5.15.06 | 3:03PM

My final (I think) post on the Rove speech at AEI today, which FOLLOWS this one, will highlight the parts of Rove's substance that were right on target and that he explained well. Here, though, a very important criticism: On the issue of spending, the man is full of Bullfeathers.

Rove continues to try to push the tired old White House line that it has done a good job keeping a lid on excess spending. The line is sheer bunk. He said the federal government under Bush's leadership has "reduced the growth of non-security discretionary spending every year in office." The way he is using this, it is a meaningless statistic. What really has happened is that Congress and the White House keep redefining what counts as domestic discretionary spending so that they look more fiscally responsible (by far) than they actually have been. More and more and more often, spending items that would be included in ordinary domestic Appropriations bill are instead hidden in numerous other ways. Let me highlight some of the ways:

1) They might be included in a regular defense spending bill. Presto -- suddenly some goofy museum or other counts not as domestic discretionary spending, but as military spending instead, even though it does absolutely nothing to improve the defense of our country.

2) They might be included in an "emergency" supplemental appropriation. In fact, the use of this trick has reached epidemic proportions. Hence the Senate can lard up a bill for Iraq war costs and Katrina relief with about $14 billion in purely local -- non war-related, non-hurricane related -- pork, yet can avoid officially "counting" it as domestic discretionary spending.

3) As in example one, purely local pork and all sorts of other social spending has been snuck into the appropriations bill for Homeland Security -- a new category, obviously, in the past five years, yet one which Rove and Co. do not count as "non-security domestic spending." It's for homeland security, see, so it's for security -- even if it (in the case of "first responder" grants) pays for cars primarily used to take the local prom court to the homecoming game, or defibrillators in some podunk town that the local high school keeps handy in case some parent gets overexcited at the local hoops match. (Those examples are from memory; I'm checking them for accuracy now, but for these purposes they can be used as illustrative examples of the KIND of waste and mis-labeling of pork that occurs during the process.)

4) Finally, Congress can find other ways to push spending "off budget," meaning it doesn't get counted in the normal "domestic discretionary" accounting for a particular fiscal year. But it still gets spent. It just gets pushed into the next year, or pushed into some other category, or...whatever. Just a couple of months ago, Pennsylvania's Arlen Specter was openly calling these shell games "gimmicks," and bragging that Congress' ever-more-successful attempts to use (and abuse) such gimmicks proves that Congress has finally become "liberal" -- which, again, Specter clearly thought was a good thing, worth not complaining about but rejoicing in.

But, as I say, it still gets spent. So when the final budget deficit figure for each year is calculated, it is astronomical, at the very same time that Rove and company try to claim with a straight face that they are being so fiscally disciplined.

As a matter of fact, in responding to a good question at AEI (from Jeanne Cummings of the Wall Street Journal) about the budget-busting transportation bill, Rove sort of unintentionally acknowledged this game playing by, after first claiming that the Transpo bill was the ONLY time, from among Bush's 39 veto threats, that Congress "breached his target," then turning around and trying to say that the target wasn't really breached because Congress had found a "face-saving ability" to go beyond the target while using budget legerdemain to hide the true amount of the spending in the official budget "scoring" of it. In other words, he admitted that Bush allowed them to cheat.

And, for that matter, he didn't mention the important note that Bush kept moving the goal posts as to what actual dollar figure (it kept getting higher over the course of two years) would trigger a veto in the first place, games or no games.

Okay, this blog post has gone on too long, so my next one will continue this subject with some advice re the spending mess, before I do what eventually will be a fourth blog post re Rove that returns to praising him.

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