July 18, 2006
Say It Ain't So, Joe

The Peking Duck alerted me to a Times of London article in which Andrew Sullivan argues:

One of the great mistakes about Bush is to conflate his foreign policy conservatism with his domestic record. At home, there is barely any social programme he doesn’t want to spend money on. He makes Gordon Brown look like Margaret Thatcher. His liberal spending record beats any president, Democrat or Republican, since FDR …

More interestingly, anti-poverty spending, during a period of rapid economic growth, is now more than 3% of GDP for the first time in history. Spending on healthcare for the poor — Medicaid — has risen by more than 50%. Bono is right about Bush: he wants government to help people. And he’s spending more government money on the disadvantaged than any Democrat in history.

It seems to me impossible that Sullivan could be onto something here, but lots of things that I once thought impossible have turned out to be true.

Nonetheless, I’d like to see somebody like Paul Krugman deconstruct Sullivan’s statistics. Meanwhile, maybe some of you can knock them out of the ballpark. Step up to the plate. A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at July 18, 2006 11:20 PM
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Since when is it "conservative" foreign policy to blow people all to hell?

Posted by: SPIIDERWEB™ on July 19, 2006 12:48 AM

If there's any truth to it - which I doubt - it probably comes from all of that faith-based money. There's a lot of government money going out to - and through - churches.

Posted by: Carl Manaster on July 19, 2006 1:02 AM

I suspect that a big chunk of this is related to welfare for the drug companies - that pesky and insidious prescription drug bill.

Posted by: Buckq on July 19, 2006 7:25 AM

And there are a whole lot more poor people, below the "poverty line," etc.

But from what I see at the states level, they're being more and more stuck with the Medicaid bills. Some states have cut off big chunks of Medicaid-eligible people in the name of not raising taxes; Pennsylvania has had a horrendous time coordinating Medicare D, Medicaid, and state prescription drug plan for older people of modest means that's been in place for maybe 30 years so that people who have been on PACE and are eligible for D don't wind up worse off, despite the fortunes going to drug companies. (PACE and other services to the aging are funded by the state lottery; the state's always bargained with the drug companies for good prices, and recipients pay, I think, $7 per prescription if they're really poor and maybe $10 each if they're of modest means. Something like that; I'm not up-to-date on the details.)

There's also a federal funding deficit for LIHEAP (tiny bit of winter heating assistance for the poor) that Northern states have been worrying about (plus the state's been wrongly giving the money to the utility companies instead of the recipient).

So if the feds are spending more for the poor, I suspect it's all going to megachurches for abstinence-only education.

Posted by: Joyful Alternative on July 19, 2006 8:51 AM

If the way they spend money on "Defense" is a model, they are spending a lot of money for very little useful return. Spending in this administration is not about the intended recipient, it is about the contractors who profit from the program.

Katrina would be a good example where they have not spent, but blown billions, the main recipient of which have been contractors and cronies.

Having Republicans spend a lot of money is the worst of all worlds. Since they basically hate government, but are more than willing to profit from it, spending is out of control, but not in any way that is useful for those in need.

I have personal experience in running programs for the government in an efficient manner. Handing out sole source contracts to supporters is not part of that efficiency model.

We are spending billions of dollars on Medicare, but the bill was largely written by the insurance and pharma companies. If that makes Bush a liberal, then I am not a liberal.

The whole medicaid, medicare program, of course, needs to be scrapped and replaced by a single payer, universal system managed directly by the government. Sorry, insurance companies, your overhead is just way too high. Sorry, pharma, but we are going to negotiate hard to make sure we pay the lowest possible prices for drugs.

The current government is run in a way that you would think would be unsatisfactory for liberals and conservatives. And yet, Bush's popular ity is at 40%. I guess just spreading as much money around as possible and appealing to the right wing fundies is a way to keep your head above water indefinitely.

The "genius" of this administration and the Republicans is to make sure that no one, at least in this generation, has to pay for anything. They have discovered the magic of deficit spending. If people actually had to pay for the Iraq war, the Defense budget, in general, and everything else, maybe they would stand up and take notice of the corruption. As it is, who cares, as long as they don't have to pay for it. Screwing future generations is not a liberal policy.

Posted by: tom on July 19, 2006 9:43 AM

As The Daily Show pointed out a long time ago, Bush isn't against big government, he's against competent government.

The Bush family has a long history of setting up situations in which the public coffers are drained in ways that are hard to account for; witness the looting of the S&Ls during 41's ascendancy, and the wars they love so much.

I wouldn't be surprised if Sullivan's numbers are correct. But as usual he's blind to the import of those numbers. The more the federal government spends, the more there is to steal. Plus, how can they justify shutting down Medicare and Social Security if the government's got a huge surplus?

Posted by: Chuck Dupree (Belisarius) on July 19, 2006 10:34 AM

Bread and games. Hail Cesar Georgieboy.

Posted by: Peter on July 19, 2006 10:43 AM

Spending by the Bush administration is targeted towards the transfer of wealth from the treasury to individuals, corporations and other nations in return for favors rendered to the Bush machine. As noted above, the administration portrays these funds not only as military expenditures, but pharmaceuticals, medical care, farm subsidies, etc. Underneath it all is just a complete looting of the wealth of the nation with no beneficial return. Ersatz spending, with little or no value returned leaves all of us, and especially the impoverished with a large debt, and worse off than before.

The buildup of debt is so great that one has to wonder if there is intent in its creation, rather than mere profligacy or corruption. Either way, there will be profound consequences resulting from the four trillion or so borrowed dollars being poured into our economy over the past five years.

With that much money being created, the economy should be hotter than the new Gatling guns, but it is not. So where is the money going?

Posted by: m on July 19, 2006 1:58 PM

"The [disappearing] Money" is naturally going into multi-generational, world-citizen (non USA-devoted) tax-free lifeboats for the wealthy.

Posted by: Hoffmann on July 20, 2006 10:05 AM

I'm in a rush so I'll let the Seattle Times give at least some of my thoughts. Sullivan is confusing an increase in spending with an increase in help. Sulley isn't very bright so his confusion is no surprise. ..the last line of the article is slam dunk...Spending lots of money, poorly

Back in 1949, the great Minnesota liberal Hubert Humphrey was pointedly asked on "Meet the Press" whether progressives like himself cared about holding down the costs of government. Humphrey answered yes, but "economy in government to me doesn't necessarily mean spending little. It means spending what you have and spending it well ... "

Fast-forward to a new study by the National Taxpayers Union Foundation. The group found that in 2005, House Democrats and Republicans voted to raise government outlays by nearly equal amounts, and that in the Senate, Republicans spent only somewhat less. The foundation's verdict was basically fie on both houses of Congress and on both parties, too.

The problem with such surveys is that they don't address Humphrey's point — that it's not simply a matter of how much politicians spend but also how well they spend it. The person who spends $40,000 on education may be a more prudent financial guardian than someone who leaves $20,000 at a casino.

As for White House comparisons, there's no contest. The current Republican administration leaves its Democratic predecessor in the dust for both amounts spent and money wasted. Bush is the biggest spender since Lyndon Johnson, according to the Cato Institute. In domestic discretionary spending (which doesn't include defense or entitlements), Bush has Johnson beat. By contrast, Bill Clinton stands as a paragon of restraint. Domestic discretionary spending jumped an average 8 percent a year in Bush's first term, versus only 2.5 percent annually in Clinton's eight years.

Many conservatives are amazed that Democrats haven't made more hay of their superior record in containing the size of government. The Democrats' dilemma is that they are not philosophically opposed to expanded government, even if in practice they have shown far more spending discipline.

Democrats really ought to brag about their Clintonian track record. Not only did they keep government growth in check, but they paid its bills the old-fashioned way, with tax revenues. That's what fiscal rectitude is all about. And it shines next to the Bush administration's disgraceful habit of borrowing on the backs of future generations.

Even more important, Democrats have spent the taxpayers' money with greater care. The reason, in part, is that Democrats don't maintain a childlike faith in the good intentions and can-do of the private sector. They believe in regulating these guys — and that government can do some things better than can business.

The Bush administration likes to send big checks and a have-a-nice-day to private contractors, who then do as they please. Our MBA president seems to forget that he is supposed to represent the taxpayers in these transactions, not the business interests.

Sloppy oversight has led to a plague of overbilling, incompetence and shoddy work. The gruesome details are just now emerging from at least two spending ratholes — the hurricane-relief efforts and the so-called rebuilding of Iraq.

About a quarter of the disaster aid for victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita — up to $1.4 billion — has been stolen, according to the Government Accountability Office. We've read about the French champagne, soft-core porn and Caribbean vacation. But perhaps the biggest waste of all has been the funds spent on the fraud-prevention system at the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The "watchdogs" over at FEMA did not even notice that multiple requests for aid were being filed under the same Social Security numbers. That would never have gotten past MasterCard.

In Iraq, hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars for rebuilding seem to have disappeared, according to U.S. audits. The Wall Street Journal reports that not only are corrupt contractors suspected of taking the money, but also U.S. and Iraqi government officials. Taxpayers should know that Washington has set aside more than $21 billion for the reconstruction of Iraq.

Republicans used to accuse Democrats of "throwing money at problems." The Bush administration not only throws money at problems; it misses them.

Posted by: trailer trash on July 20, 2006 12:16 PM
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