WASHINGTON -- Our nation's capital is filling with nouveau New Dealers and social engineers, men and women with a glint in the eye. All are anticipating the orgies. There is a stimulus bill of $787 billion, an appropriations bill of $410 billion, a housing bailout bill of $275 billion, and the Prophet Obama's colossal budget, promising $3.55 trillion of expenditures (including a $634 billion "down payment" on health care reform). My heart goes out to the American taxpayer, of course, but somewhat to my surprise, I reserve a special sadness for former President Bill Clinton. In his party, he is a dinosaur. Today, as the Obamaists swarm through Washington, the centrist from the 1990s must feel forlorn.
For years, it has been his boast that he balanced the federal budget and maintained vigorous economic growth. He expanded free trade and, working bipartisanly with Republicans, reformed welfare. People left the welfare rolls and took remunerative employment. Usually, federal spending hovers at about 20 percent of gross domestic product. In the Clinton administration, it dropped to 18.4 percent -- the lowest level since 1966. Bill said, "The era of big government is over," and he meant it.
Today his party has passed him by. Bill, can we now be friends? I apologize for all my past rudeness, even the jokes. It is a matter of public record that you have made friends with Dick Scaife. Allow me to be next. Let us convene a conference. We could explore market solutions to public problems, and together we could promulgate a manifesto on free trade. I shall bring some friends from The Heritage Foundation and the Hoover Institution -- Ph.D.s. Perhaps we can plot how to re-reform welfare after the Obama administration shanghais the poor back into the welfare trap.
Under the Prophet, federal expenditures will soar to 27.7 percent of GDP. That is the highest rate of expenditure since 1945. The deficit will hit $1.7 trillion this year and, after a brief decline, rise above $700 billion. His budget contemplates a recovery, but in 2010, spending still will be in the range of 24.1 percent of GDP. Moreover, he will raise taxes and cut the military back.
Though we are mired in a recession whose recovery is still in doubt, the Obama administration is going to move on all fronts. As his White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, has said, "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste." If you are suffering from the recession, you might find Emanuel's line callous, but that is just the way Democrats talk nowadays. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton put it this way: "Never waste a good crisis."
Both of these crisisists apparently believe there is something systemic in the United States that needs to be changed radically. Perhaps they think that the past 25 years of growth -- which began with the Reagan administration and continued through the administration of Emanuel's former boss, Bill Clinton -- were a failure. So working simultaneously, the Obama administration is going to fix the banking crisis, the housing crisis and the economic slowdown. That is not all. It promises to usher in nationalized health care, nationalized education and a nationalized energy policy abundant with green energy funded and regulated by the government. There is more going on over in the cluttered West Wing. Three million jobs are being created while the automobile industry and the housing industry are being saved.
With all of this hurly-burly going on, I hope my new friend is not going to suffer the blues. In less than four years, his presidency is going to be looked back on fondly by Democrats and even by me. I think it is increasingly evident that Bill's Democratic successor is the most ill-prepared man to serve as president in a long time. My mind goes back to former President Abraham Lincoln's abrupt successor, Andrew Johnson. Mr. Obama's problems in staffing his government suggest as much, as does the low quality of many of his nominees, at least the nominees who were not dropped for tax irregularities or for being under grand jury investigation. Secretary of Treasury Timothy Geithner looks and sounds like an undergraduate. His colleague Peter Orszag is hardly better. In the months ahead, we shall see what other duds the president has brought aboard.
His White House staff seems particularly inept. In a matter of days, led by our novice president, his staff got in a no-win row with Rush Limbaugh. Then the White House offended Prime Minister Gordon Brown with an amateurish reception that roused the ire of the British press and, I should think, the prime minister, too. The British press already was spreading rumors that Obama is anti-British because of his staff's unceremonious return of a Winston Churchill bust that then-Prime Minister Tony Blair sent to the White House on loan after 9/11.
So cheer up, Bill. Your legacy is going to look fine, save for that unmentionable run-in with … what was her name again? Already things are turning against the Prophet. Just the other day, Howard Fineman, writing on the Newsweek Web site, said, "The American establishment is taking (the president's) measure and, with surprising swiftness, they are finding him lacking." Bill, let's have a beer.