Steve Chapman

This brings to mind the old jibe about his father: He was born on third base and thought he hit a triple. When Bush the Younger arrived, federal spending was at the lowest level, as a share of GDP, since 1966, and the budget had a surplus.

From 2001 through 2008, though, spending grew 13 percent as a share of GDP, and a $128 billion surplus turned into a $459 billion deficit. That doesn't even count the huge jump in total outlays and the deficit in fiscal year 2009 -- most of which was the product of his decisions, not Obama's.

Bush is like a billionaire who goes broke over 10 years and then says, "Based on my average wealth over the past decade, I'm rich."

Now, Republicans admit they fell short in the past and insist that they have learned their lesson. But why should you believe them? McConnell's vow to cut discretionary spending indicates that they are captives of magical thinking, not practical reality.

They claim they can save $100 billion a year on those programs. But after 2012, reports the Washington-based Concord Coalition, the total cost of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid will swell by more than $100 billion annually.

Not only that, but interest costs on the government debt will also grow by $100 billion a year. So even if the GOP makes those discretionary spending cuts, overall expenditures will be higher than the unacceptable levels of 2010.

Nor is there much reason to think Republicans will take on federal support for retirees. In fact, many Republicans campaigned by roasting Democrats for allegedly cutting Medicare -- though the Democrats had voted only to cut its growth rate.

It's not a good omen. The tea partiers are waiting for congressional Republicans to do everything they can to reduce the size and cost of government. But they may find it's like waiting for Santa Claus.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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