“I am a firm believer in markets,” President Bush declared this morning, and then joked that he understands it doesn’t seem that way lately.
Appearing at an American Enterprise Institute event at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, Bush fielded questions for about an hour put to him by AEI’s Christopher DeMuth. During his remarks Bush defended adding the prescription drug benefit to Medicare and the recent string of bailouts all the while presenting himself as a champion of the free market.
On Medicare, Bush claimed that he supported the prescription drug plan because it saved money on surgeries by providing senior citizens with preventative medication, and argued that the plan cost 40 percent less than anticipated because he insisted on “market-oriented principles.”
President Bush said he understood the frustration people felt over the financial industry bailouts, but at the time Ben Bernanke had told him that if he didn’t act, there could be an economic crisis greater than the Great Depression.
“I didn’t want to be the president who was there at the beginning of a crisis that is greater than the Great Depression,” he said.
Although he emphasized that a final decision hasn’t been made, Bush spoke as if the auto bailout were a foregone conclusion.
“Under normal circumstances, no question bankruptcy court is the best way to work through credit and debt and restructuring,” Bush said. “These are not normal circumstances. That is the problem.”
Bush argued that we’ll never know what kind of economic catastrophe would have resulted had he not taken the actions he did. He said that all the actions he took should be viewed as “temporary” and he doesn’t believe that government should be running the auto industry or mortgage system over the long run.
“This is a difficult time to be a free market person,” Bush observed at one point in his remarks.
No kidding, Mr. President.