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Saturday, September 10, 2005

Big "gummit" is back

Pass the word: the era of big government is back!

After 9/11, the Bush White House lept into action and the foreign policy team had a lot of on-the-shelf ideas that they could implement without too much trouble. Presidents have more power over foreign policy than they do over domestic affairs, and 9/ll provided a near-perfect justification for their policy prescriptions.

This is accurate whether you want to emphasize the role of the embedded neocons (Scooter Libby and Paul Wolfowitz) or the hard-line nationalists (Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney). Both groups were well-represented in the "Vulcans" who surrounded Bush in his 2000 campaign and in the out-of-power think tank, Project for a New American Century. They also largely agreed about the need for the US to pursue unilateralist primacy in world politics.

Rebuilding the Gulf Coast after Katrina, however, poses a huge problem for Bush and his followers. It's a domestic problem, not a foreign policy problem. The answers invite the return of "big government," and even if Bush-friendly corporations like Halliburton are rewarded, there's likely going to be substantial scrutiny of money spent after this domestic catastrophe.

The sums are enormous, with Congress already appropriating $62 billion -- the recovery effort means $2 billion spent daily!

The Los Angeles Times reporters Peter G. Gosselin and Janet Hook describe the obvious dilemma for Bush-backers:
President Bush, who came to office pledging to complete the Reagan revolution against big government, is set to preside over one of the biggest government undertakings in recent U.S. history — the reconstruction of the storm-ravaged Gulf Coast.

In doing so, the president is turning to many of the New Deal and Great Society programs that he long criticized as too costly and a threat to Americans' sense of self-reliance.

The size of the administration's relief and recovery plan alone threatens to swamp much of what had been Bush's second-term agenda — making previously approved tax cuts permanent, introducing personal investments to Social Security and advancing other "ownership society" programs.
I like this quote:
"This is the mother of all government reconstruction programs," said Allen Schick, an authority on the federal budget who teaches at the University of Maryland.
Kind of harkens back to the first Bush (Senior) administration, eh?

Libertarians are especially upset at the turn of events:
"The president's plan is a big change from what has been the traditional federal role in disasters," said William Niskanen, chairman of the Cato Institute, a Washington think tank that advocates small government.

"The effect is going to be to indefinitely defer things he's wanted to do, like Social Security [restructuring]," Niskanen said. "And I don't think there's any possibility of eliminating the estate tax"

...administration actions have left some Bush supporters with a sense of political vertigo as the president and his chief aides appear to embrace positions they were sharply critical of a few weeks ago.

"It bothers me enormously how we've responded to this problem. This is just way out of bounds," Niskanen said.
Then again, libertarians have never been happy with this administration.

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