Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Lunchtime Article

Browsing my favorite sites at lunchtime (which, at my office, means I cram some food in my piehole while surfing the Internet for five minutes between projects), I ran across Spinsanity's excelent analysis of a certain Republican'ts appearance on "Meet the Press." Since there's no way to directly link to their article (although it's the first one to appear dates 2-10-04 on their site), here's the beef:

Asked about conservatives who have criticized increases in spending under his administration, Bush said:

"Well, they're wrong. If you look at the appropriations bills that were passed under my watch, in the last year of President Clinton, discretionary spending was up 15 percent, and ours have steadily declined."

Bush's reference to "appropriations bills," rather than actual government outlays, indicates that he is referring to the annual totals of spending Congress has authorized through the appropriations process. (For more on this distinction, see Jonathan Weisman's Washington Post article from December.) However, rates of growth in so-called discretionary budget authority have not declined in a linear manner under Bush. According to statistics in the President's fiscal year 2005 budget (208K PDF - see table S-2), total discretionary budget authority provided by Congress (including supplemental appropriations) rose by 13.6 percent in 2001, 10.7 percent in 2002 and 15.6 percent in 2003. (Note: Discretionary spending is different from entitlement spending for programs like Social Security or Medicare, which is automatically determined under program rules.)

The President appears to have meant to exclude homeland security and defense spending, a qualification his administration has often made in its calculations. As Kevin Drum pointed out on the blog CalPundit, Bush's budget (see table S-2 again) shows figures for non-defense, non-homeland security spending authorizations (excluding supplemental appropriations) that are more in line with his statement - 14.9 percent in fiscal year 2001, 6.0 percent in 2002, 5.4 percent in 2003 and 4.0 percent so far in 2004. This appears to be the source of Bush's 15 percent figure. (The numbers change somewhat when supplemental appropriations are included.) These data come closer to justifying the President's assertion that discretionary spending increases have slowed under his watch, but the difference between total discretionary spending and non-defense, non-homeland security discretionary spending is important and one Bush should have specified.

This is not his only recent omission on budget matters from the President. As the Daily Mislead noted last Monday, Bush answered a reporter's question about the deficit on February 2 by stating, "The reason we are where we are, in terms of the deficit, is because we went through a recession, we were attacked, and we're fighting a war." This was echoed in the Budget Message of the President released on the same day.

This statement misses one of the largest causes of the deficit: tax cuts. According to an analysis from the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities using data from the Joint Committee on Taxation, the total cost in fiscal 2003 of the three tax cuts passed since President Bush took office was $166 billion. That represents 44 percent of last year's $374 billion deficit, a sizable figure for the President to leave out of his formulation. He has done it repeatedly before, however, as has Vice President Dick Cheney.

These statements should be considered alongside the administration's public relations offensive on behalf of Bush's "plan" to cut the deficit in half by 2009, which as we noted last week meets its goal only by leaving out a number of significant costs. Taken together, it's clear that George W. Bush is systematically attempting to mislead the public on economic issues. And despite the many critics who have exposed his tactics, there appears to be no end in sight.

A note: when I post material from another site or resource, I always indicate such in bold and give credit where credit is due. I will also begin offsetting quotes as I have above.

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