As Barack Obama assumes the mantle of the presidency and duties of the office, he has inherited from his predecessor a federal government that has a staggering national debt of more than $10 trillion, a ballooning federal deficit this year estimated at $438 billion – and a government that recently assumed responsibility for some $5 trillion of the nation’s consumer debt.
The irony is that George W. Bush, who billed himself as a conservative in the mold of Ronald Reagan, leaves a legacy of profligate federal spending, record debt and an economy in shambles.
A broad range of conservative thinkers, surveying the political and economic fallout of the two Bush terms, are openly voicing their concerns that it may take years for the Republican Party and the nation to repair the damage Bush policies have inflicted.
“Bush has added a staggering $32 trillion to unfunded government liabilities future generations of Americans will have to bear,” wrote the London Sunday Times’ Andrew Sullivan, a maverick conservative who described Bush’s economic policies as “fiscal madness.”
The huge spending increases came despite the fact that fellow Republicans controlled Congress for six of Bush’s eight years in office. And Bush did not veto a bill of any kind, including spending, until July 2006, and left office having cast the fewest vetoes of any modern president.
“Not vetoing [Democrats’] bills as the price for their support of the war meant endless red ink,” said Victor Davis Hanson, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution.
[Editor's Note: Read Part 1 of “The Bush Legacy: Conservatives Betrayed” - Go Here Now]
Leading conservative activist Richard A. Viguerie, publisher of ConservativeHQ.com, told Newsmax: “When Bush and the Republican Congress broke their commitment to the American people to govern as conservatives, they lost their moral authority and subtly sent signals that no one has to be obligated to keep commitments or be fiscally responsible.”
And Wall Street Journal columnist John Fund told Newsmax: “Where Bush fell down, I think, was — partly because of the war — he decided he was going to let Congress take control of the spending levers.
“Giving Congress control over spending, without a check from the presidential veto pen, is like giving teenagers car keys and a bottle of whiskey and asking them to behave – they’re just not going to do it.”
In Bush’s favor, he did cut taxes in 2001 and 2003 for many Americans. Like Reagan’s tax cuts in the 1980s, they worked, increasing economic activity and boosting government revenues. But unlike President Reagan, he failed to control the unbridled growth in spending. A grim look at Bush’s eight years:When Bush was elected in 2000, the federal government had a surplus of more than $200 billion. By the end of his first year in office, that had dropped to just over $100 billion, and the government has run deficits every year since then.
The federal budget deficit hit a new record in the just-completed 2008 budget year — $438 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office.Bush’s first budget asked for $2 trillion in spending. For his last budget, the figure was $3.1 trillion — a 50 percent rise in eight years. During the same period, inflation climbed only 20 percent.
Even during his first term, when Republicans controlled Congress, Bush had an annualized real growth in discretionary spending of 8 percent, compared to 4.6 percent for Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” spending spree.When Bush took the oath of office in 2001, the national debt stood at $5.7 trillion. As Bush departed Washington on Tuesday, it had grown by almost $5 trillion to more than $10.6 trillion – a quantum increase of nearly 100 percent. Today, each American shares a burden of $34,800 for this debt.
And Americans are paying for it in taxes. Interest on the debt in just the first nine months of the current fiscal year was nearly $400 billion. And a quarter of that outlay went to other countries that hold our debt instruments.
“Nowhere does there seem an awareness that the ideas [Bush] absorbed at his father’s knee and the Harvard Business School,” columnist Patrick Buchanan wrote, “had resulted in the de-industrialization of his country, an enormous and growing dependency on Japan, China and Asia for the essentials of our national life, and, now, for the borrowed money to pay for them.”Bush oversaw the greatest increase in discretionary social spending in history, beginning with the No Child Left Behind program that he proposed as soon as he took office. That program alone has added billions to the federal government’s education funding, which rose from $42 billion in 2001 to nearly $60 billion last year. Bush signed the bill providing prescription drug coverage for Medicare recipients. That program was originally projected to cost $400 billion over 10 years. More recent estimates put the cost at $725 billion through the year 2015.President Bush placed the United States on a global interventionist path for the elusive goal of “democracy.” The U.S. has now spent more than $800 billion on the Iraq war, with estimates of the ultimate cost as high as $4 trillion.
The Defense budget has swelled to $650 billion for fiscal 2009, including supplemental and emergency discretionary funds. The Department of Homeland Security Department tacks on another $50 billion in expenditures each year.
The huge increases in Defense and Homeland Security came in response to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. But consider that al-Qaida plotters spent between $400,000 and $500,000 to plan and execute the attacks, according to the 9/11 Commission report.
During Bush’s tenure, his administration pushed the Federal Reserve for easy money and turned a blind eye to dangerous banking practices, such as zero percent equity mortgages, and Wall Street financial practices that were motivated by greed, not good business sense.
This led to the housing market collapse and the financial meltdown that followed, necessitating the huge $700 billion-plus bailout program that could push the deficit into the stratosphere.
Obama himself has already warned of trillion-dollar federal budget deficits for years to come. He will have his predecessor to blame for creating the mess.
Bush himself has laid the groundwork for his successor to fulfill a socialist agenda for the nation. Obama has pledged a new stimulus program, including massive public works projects that will essentially add as many as 3 million employees paid for by U.S. taxpayers.
Bush also created an awful precedent by agreeing to a bridge loan bailout of Detroit of $17.4 billion. When Congress, led by Senate Republicans, blocked legislation for such a giveaway to the dying U.S. auto industry, Bush plowed away anyway.
Without congressional approval he appropriated billions from the TARP legislation Congress provided for Wall Street.
No matter that TARP specifically said the money should be used only for the “finance” industry.
In November, White House Press Secretary Dana Perino had acknowledged: “The TARP funding is there for financial institutions . . . Congress never intended for individual industries to be able to come forward . . . There’s not an appetite in Congress, or in the administration, to open up the TARP funding for individual industries.”
For sure, Bush has created dangerous precedents that will likely be abused by succeeding presidents.
In his closing days in office, after long betraying conservative principles, Bush had the temerity to blame the economic disaster on the free market and cast himself as some sort of hero.
"I will be known as somebody (who) saw a problem and put the chips on the table to prevent the economy from collapsing," Bush told Fox News. "I'm a free-market guy. But I'm not going to let this economy crater in order to preserve the free-market system."
Bush views his role in the economic collapse as if he was an innocent bystander caught in the winds of the free market.
Asked at his last press conference about the burdens of being president, Bush mocked the idea, telling the press said the “burdens of the office is (sic) overstated.”
Acting if he was deeply worried about the economy, he said with sarcasm, “Why me, the burdens? Why did the financial collapse have to happen on my watch? It’s just pathetic; the self pity.”
Bush’s response also offered a more subtle message. He was not responsible for economic problems that simply happened on his “watch.”
Not everyone has bought Bush’s view.
“Where was President Bush while all this was happening?” Fox News’ Bill O‘Reilly asked in a recent column.
“He continued to put forth that the economy was fundamentally strong when it was not. That is on the president. If his economic advisers misled him, he should have said so. But Bush is leaving office with no credible explanation for the collapse.”
Columnist Thomas Sowell added that the bailout money “is just a gift to the Democrats to spend in whatever ways will advance the interests of their constituents and of the Democratic Party.”
The bailout “does ensure that President Bush will have a legacy. It’s a legacy that will set back the concept of economic liberty by a century,” Competitive Enterprise Institute President Fred Smith said.
Assessing the Bush presidency, Viguerie declared: “Bush’s big government approach to his presidency, including massive expansion of the power and reach of the federal government domestically and in foreign affairs, blurred the difference between the two parties, thereby discouraging Republicans, emboldening Democrats and confusing and angering the center.
“Bush’s massive expansion of the Federal government and deficit spending has undone the work of a generation of conservatives, wiped out 30 years of electoral victories of Republicans, and encouraged Democrats to increase their desire to make America a socialist country.”
[Editor's Note: Read Part 1 of “The Bush Legacy: Conservatives Betrayed” - Go Here Now]
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