Ignoring deficit spending, Wash. Post's soon-to-be economics reporter asserted Bush "is pay[ing] for the war" with other cuts in budget

››› ››› MATT GERTZ

The Washington Post's Michael Fletcher asserted that President Bush "is generally against tax increases as he believes they stifle economic growth. So his idea is to pay for the war by cutting back elsewhere in the budget." In fact, inflation-adjusted non-defense discretionary outlays have risen each year since Bush took office; Bush has actually paid for the war by deficit spending.

During an October 25 washingtonpost.com "Post Politics Hour" discussion, Washington Post White House reporter Michael Fletcher -- who will become the Post's national economics reporter beginning November 1 -- asserted: "I think President Bush does want us to pay for this war -- even if he didn't, we certainly are paying. But Bush is generally against tax increases as he believes they stifle economic growth. So his idea is to pay for the war by cutting back elsewhere in the budget." In fact, according to the Office of Management and Budget's Historical Tables of the Fiscal Year 2008 Budget, inflation-adjusted non-defense discretionary outlays have risen each year since Bush took office, to $407.8 billion in fiscal year 2006, up from $335.0 billion in fiscal 2001 under the Clinton administration (FY 2000 dollars). Thus, Bush has actually paid for the war, not by "cutting back elsewhere in the budget," but by deficit spending. As Media Matters for America has previously documented, Bush assumed office with a $125.3 billion surplus for fiscal 2001 (which began October 1, 2000). According to the standardized budget, which includes adjustments such as cyclical fluctuations, the government has run a deficit in every fiscal year of Bush's presidency, including $318 billion in 2005 and $248 billion in 2006. Nevertheless, Bush did not veto a single spending bill during the first six years of his administration, a period in which the House was controlled by Republicans and during which the Senate was controlled by Republicans for all but 18 months.

An October 24 McClatchy Newspapers article reported that "George W. Bush, despite all his recent bravado about being an apostle of small government and budget-slashing, is the biggest spending president since Lyndon B. Johnson. In fact, he's arguably an even bigger spender than LBJ." The article cited the budget analysis of Stephen Slivinski, the director of budget studies at the libertarian Cato Institute, who found that "[w]hen adjusted for inflation, discretionary spending ... shot up at an average annual rate of 5.3 percent during Bush's first six year," higher than "the 4.6 percent annual rate Johnson logged."

Later in the discussion, a questioner noted that Bush is funding the war by "putting it on the credit card," and asked Fletcher, "How can you have a balanced budget when the billions being spent to prosecute a war going into its fifth year are all off the books as emergency appropriations, with the notes held by foreign entities such as China?" Fletcher replied, "Maybe I'll be able to give you an intelligent answer once I've written about economics for a while."

From Fletcher's October 25 "Post Politics Hour" discussion:

Washington: Has any White House reporter ever asked the president if he would have supported the tax increases FDR put in place to support World War II? He seems so convinced that we shouldn't pay for this war; I would love to know if that's because one shouldn't increase taxes during wars, or if this particular conflict is different.

Michael Fletcher: I have never heard President Bush asked the question you raise. Despite what you say, I think President Bush does want us to pay for this war -- even if he didn't, we certainly are paying. But Bush is generally against tax increases as he believes they stifle economic growth. So his idea is to pay for the war by cutting back elsewhere in the budget.

[...]

Salinas, Calif.: Hi Michael. In response to Washington: President Bush may say that he won't raise taxes to pay for the war, but we're paying for it just the same (with our children still paying for it and their children as well). The twisted thing is that he's handing us the tab in true baby-boomer fashion -- putting it on the credit card. How can you have a balanced budget when the billions being spent to prosecute a war going into its fifth year are all off the books as emergency appropriations, with the notes held by foreign entities such as China? Just asking.

Michael Fletcher: Maybe I'll be able to give you an intelligent answer once I've written about economics for a while. It's hard (for me, at least) to know what the impact of deficits are. I keep hearing they are bad, but we keep running them and (so far) interest rates remain low and the economy seems to hum (until lately, at least). But maybe it is like a house of cards that one day will collapse.

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