Debra J. Saunders
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With his surprise Thanksgiving visit to Iraq, President Bush demonstrated his mastery of the bold act that sends a gutsy, unmistakable message: America is in Iraq for the long haul.

When was the last time a politician pleasantly surprised you?

Now, it's time for Bush to work some of that same magic on a city that has become all shell game -- Washington, where spending under a GOP-controlled Congress has spun out of control.

Or as Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told commentator Tony Snow on "Fox News Sunday," "Congress is now spending money like a drunken sailor."

To his credit, McCain voted against the excessive $400 billion Medicare bill. He's disappointed, he told Snow, that the Bushies, who originally asked for "an energy bill that cost about $8 billion -- B -- billion dollars," now support a bill with a $24 billion -- some say $31 billion -- price tag. "I don't know how you rationalize that," McCain said.

The reaction to the interview, McCain told me Monday, has been huge. "We've reached a tipping point," he opined.

In his State of the Union address, Bush promised a budget "that increases discretionary spending by 4 percent next year -- about as much as an average family's income is expected to grow." But as The Washington Post reported last month, federal discretionary spending grew by 12.5 percent in the last fiscal year. In two years, the government grew by more than 27 percent.

Or as McCain put it, "We're spending like a family going into bankruptcy."

Of course, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the global terrorism threat stoked the spending increases -- and no one should begrudge Bush for spending money to keep Americans safe.

I'll add that this fiscal year's deficit, expected to be as high as $525 billion, is survivable. "Even budget hawks like us," said Harry Zeeve of the fiscal-watchdog Concord Coalition, "admit that in any given year a deficit isn't that big a deal. Our economy is big enough to handle it."

Zeeve added: "You start to run into a problem when you lock yourself into sustained, chronic deficit spending."

Bingo. Much of the binge is bankrolling agribusiness, and the energy and transportation industries.

Team Bush responds by noting that the president has submitted budgets with modest spending increases. True, but then, Bush signed bloated appropriations bills without complaint. His biggest mistake was not vetoing the pork-heavy $180 billion farm bill in 2002 -- and we taxpayers are paying the price for it.

Bush too is paying a price, as he seems mired in a world where bloated spending is the norm. Having given the oink-oink crowd some wins, Bush now governs as if he has no authority to reject pork, ever.

McCain says Bush should tell Congress to shave the bacon off the energy bill or he'll veto it. "The American people, I'm sure, overwhelmingly would support him," said McCain.

Of course the country would cheer. As McCain likes to remind voters, the energy bill has so much corporate welfare that it even would subsidize a Hooters restaurant (in the Louisiana district of House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Billy Tauzin).

"It's like any other evil; it either is reversed or eliminated, or it grows," McCain said. "It's evil to take taxpayers' hard-earned dollars and spend them on frivolous things."

Those words embody why I became a Republican. I'd like to hear George W. Bush repeat them. It would be a pleasant surprise.

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Debra J. Saunders


 
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