Last week I had an interesting experience. I was asked to testify before a hearing of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee. I made it clear to them that I was a Republican, but they said they wanted me anyway. I suppose that they knew that I have become very disturbed by the Republican Party’s fiscal policy and they presumed that I would attack it. I did not disappoint them.
I explained that I am not particularly a deficit hawk, nor do the size of the Bush tax cuts bother me. What really bothers me is the orgy of spending by Republicans. It is just appalling that the recent highway bill had 5,000 “earmarks” in it. These are almost without exception, utterly unjustified pork barrel projects.
I am further appalled by President’s Bush’s unwillingness to use his veto pen to maintain some semblance of fiscal discipline. He is the first president to serve a full term without vetoing anything since John Quincy Adams, who served from 1824 to 1828.
Adams perhaps had the excuse that his father, President John Adams (1796-1800), didn’t veto anything, either. But President Bush cannot use that excuse. His father vetoed 29 bills in his four years in office (1988-1992).
When I complain about this to the rapidly dwindling number of friends I have in the White House, they always tell me that it is very hard to veto bills when a Congress controlled by your own party passes them. But this excuse is just total humbug, as the Brits might say. Franklin D. Roosevelt vetoed a record 372 bills, every one of them passed by Congresses controlled by his party. Other Democrats have also shown no unwillingness to veto bills passed by Democratic Congresses. John F. Kennedy vetoed 12 bills, Lyndon Johnson vetoed 16, and Jimmy Carter vetoed 13.
But pork barrel projects—even tens of billions of dollars worth of them—are not what has dug us into a fiscal hole. It is the rapidly escalating cost of entitlement programs. President Bush is well aware of the problems in this area. He eloquently explained the deteriorating fiscal condition of the Social Security program in many speeches this year, as part of his effort to reform that program and stabilize its finances for future generations.
Bruce Bartlett is a former senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis of Dallas, Texas. Bartlett is a prolific author, having published over 900 articles in national publications, and prominent magazines and published four books, including Reaganomics: Supply-Side Economics in Action.
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