Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Was Bush's Brain a Deficit Dove?

It's not just SCHIP. The White House is now opposing other popular domestic spending measures (as reported here), in what is being described as an effort to reassert his conservative credentials in time for the 2008 election. In the NY Times story linked above, for example, reporter Carl Hulse floats the theory that "Mr. Bush and Republican leaders are taking a harder line on spending out of a belief that voters in 2006 punished them for allowing federal spending to creep upward in the last six years and creating a costly new Medicare drug benefit."

That's one theory, I suppose, but here's another (mine): The Medicare drug benefit was moderately popular, earning Republicans at least as many votes from moderate/elderly voters as it cost them with conservative deficit hawks. Bush scores almost no points as a deficit hawk because, in light of the cost of the Iraq war, the domestic programs he wants to cut are far too little too late to appease any serious fiscal conservative who votes on such issues. Bush's current desires to keep down taxes on the wealthy, while spending lavishly (in blood and treasure) on a misbegotten foreign policy adventure, and nickeling and diming the nation's needy, all come from his core ideological commitments and are politically costly. The administration's earlier willingness to go along with modest growth in domestic budgets and even to support some costly new programs were politically driven. But with Karl Rove no longer in the White House to keep Bush focused on the politically popular rather than simple conservative ideology, the President has reverted to his own ideological instincts.

I realize that many people (including me on occasion) have described Rove's master strategy as polarization and base mobilization, but that was never the whole of it. Rove was always willing to try to appeal to swing voters with baubles (like health care!) if he thought that the benefit outweighed the cost with core conservatives.

Posted by Mike Dorf

8 comments:

egarber said...

Democrats need to realize that they face a political risk in all of this. Everything Hoyer and company are saying is absolutely true: Republicans drove earmarks through the roof over the past 7 years, and they often merged popular bills with other packages to bully passage, etc.

BUT, if voters see Dems as just doing the same thing, it might not be enough to simply say, "well, the other side does it." 2006 was supposed to be about changing behavior.

In the most recent case (veterans benefits, health research, water management, etc.), the spending has support from both sides, so I realize it's a little different. Still, I think there is risk.

Paul said...

Could be, but I am not so sure. Something that looks like a bauble to a liberal Dem such as yourself was really very damaging to fiscal conservatives. At this point, the total Bush picture is a complete failure and it is clear that Iraq is the most significant failure among a large pile of failures. With that said, as a "deficit hawk" I can tell you my support of Bush left first because of his Medicare prescription benefit program (which is 1. costly, 2. inefficient and really most importantly 3. replaced efforts along those lines already being done by the pharmacies themselves).

Of course you are right in that had Bush not overseen the most fiscally irresponsible government in my life time, I would still not be supporting him today because of everything he has done in the name of "fighting terrorism."

I believe the most likely explanation is that Bush actually believed in the correctness of his expensive social policies and does not believe similarly in the correctness of the domestic programs he is now looking to slash.

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