Of course this kind of give and take goes on all the time. But now, the stakes are much higher because so many states have spent the past decade or so inventing new and creative ways to spend cash. Today, they are each facing a budgetary crisis. Not just a crisis in the sense that every little daily problem is declared a "crisis" by the news media, but a genuine crisis, with layoffs of government employees, early release of prisoners, infirm seniors denied nursing home care, and even elimination of benefits for severely ill children. (Or just tax increases.)
It's all enough to make the most conservative heart bleed -- and that's exactly the point. This time next year, unemployment may be down and corporate capital expenditures and the stock market up, but Americans could still be feeling as if happy days are not yet here again. Not if government workers are idle, state colleges and universities are turning away student applicants, long lines are forming for government services like driver's license renewals, and everyone has a sob story on their lips.
If so, it won't be just Alabama's Gov. Bob Riley and California's Gov. Gray Davis feeling the heat. Every incumbent will have a chance to draw the public's ire. And they will have no one to blame but themselves or their predecessors for decades of increased public expenditures designed to attract votes, not to solve problems.
President George W. Bush could end up suffering from a case of misdirected ballot box anger next year if the impact of his tax-stimulus package and other economic incentives are muted by a delayed recovery at the state and local level. Make no mistake: The political impact of Bush's request for $87 billion to stabilize and rebuild Iraq will influence voters, unless things are looking up on the home front when November 2004 rolls around.
Considering how risky it is to sit back and hope for the best, the White House could benefit from working with the states as they approach their most challenging political season. Bush and Congress should also think twice about piling on more federal deficit before it causes a similar fiscal crisis in Washington.
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