Tuesday, August 20, 2002
Back in the saddle again: You knew the kinder, gentler Paul Krugman couldn't last. Just a few days after a thoughtful analysis of the country's economic situation, with nary a vicious attack in sight, Krugman returns to his old ways with today's piece in The New York Times.
[D]on't tell, maybe they won't ask. That was the message of a July memo from an official at the Department of Veterans Affairs, posted by Joshua Marshall at talkingpointsmemo.com. Citing "conservative OMB budget guidance" for spending on veterans' health care, the memo instructed subordinates to "ensure that no marketing activities to enroll new veterans occur within your networks." Veterans are entitled to medical care; but the administration hopes that some of them don't know that, and that it can save money by leaving them ignorant.
See, Bush not only hates old people, children and cats -- he hates veterans too.
Seriously, how many veterans are there that are unaware that they qualify for health care from the federal government? Two? Three? Do the guys down at the American Legion Hall keep information about the benefits they can get from their brothers-in-arms? Do the guys at the VFW post have a code of silence?
Unlike Krugman, The Boston Globe at least tried to explain both sides of the story.
In an interview last night, Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony J. Principi said he directed Miller to send the memo, and he rejected Kerry's call for Miller's resignation.
''We have a serious situation in the VA, and I think it is irresponsible to strongly recruit for new enrollees when we cannot meet the expectations and the needs for the people currently enrolled. ... To me it would just be irresponsible and lead to unfulfilled expectations,'' Principi said.
The VA is required to provide services to all veterans who have suffered a disabling injury or are indigent. The secretary of veterans affairs has discretion to offer eligibility to others. In 1996, Congress allowed the VA expanded its eligibility to all veterans, not just to those who are indigent or have service-related injuries.
Of course, there's a solution to this -- more money. But unfortunately, neither Bush nor the Democrats or Republicans in Congress can demagogue on this issue for one reason: the Farm Bill. That thing was a disgrace. Congress shouldn't have passed it and Bush should've vetoed it.
Back to Krugman:
It's not the sort of thing you'd expect from an administration that wraps itself so tightly in the flag ? not, that is, unless you've been paying attention. For stories like this are popping up more and more often.
Every president wraps themselves in the flag. Heck, Clinton did it while cutting defense spending to the bone. Every memorial day he would praise American soldiers -- while making sure that there were fewer and fewer of them in uniform.
Did anyone see a turnip truck go by here? I think Krugman fell off it.
Take George W. Bush's decision last week to demonstrate his resolve by blocking $5.1 billion in homeland security spending. This turned out to be a major gaffe, because the rejected bill allocated money both to improve veterans' health care and to provide firefighters with new equipment, including communication systems that could have saved lives on Sept. 11. Recalling those scenes at ground zero that did so much to raise Mr. Bush's poll numbers, the president of the International Association of Firefighters warned, "Don't lionize our fallen brothers in one breath, then stab us in the back."
Or what about the trapped coal miners? After their rescue, Mr. Bush made a point of congratulating them in person -- and Michael Novak, writing in National Review Online, declared Somerset, Pa., the "conservative capital of the world."
But Mr. Novak didn't mention the crucial assistance provided by the federal government's Mine Safety and Health Administration. That would have raised some awkward questions: although the Bush administration's energy plans call for major increases in coal mining, its spending plans cut funds for mine safety. More conservative budget guidance.
The point is that there is an inexorably growing gap between the image and the reality of the Bush administration's policies.
This is new, if you don't fund everything to the level that some union or special-interest group wants, then you obviously want those people to die. No money for a firefighters communication system? You want firefighters to die. No money for mine safety programs. You want miners to die.
Besides, I'm also sure that there isn't a single ounce of pork in that $5.1 billion appropriation. Not one Robert Byrd Memorial rest stop in the whole bunch. Nope, not one.
The federal budget is now deep in deficit, and everyone except the administration thinks it will remain there -- not because of runaway spending, but because most of last year's tax cut has yet to take effect. And as my colleague Frank Rich points out, to offset the revenue losses from his tax cut, Mr. Bush would have to veto a $5 billion spending proposal every working day for the next year. Mr. Bush can no longer pretend, as he did during the 2000 campaign, that there is enough money for everything. Now, to justify that tax cut, he must hack steadily away at programs that matter to ordinary people.
For all of the screaming that Krugman does about the budget deficit, you'd think that preventing excessive spending would be a top priority. The truth is that Krugman's solution to the federal government's budget problems was revealed last week on the Charlie Rose show. I don't have a transcript, so you'll just have to trust my memory.
Here's his plan:
1. Prevent any more of the Bush tax cut from going into effect.
2. Increase government spending. What the government spends its money on doesn't matter, as long as it spends and spends and spends.
It's interesting that the Democrats are the innocents in all of this. Bush wields the veto, but it seems to me that if Democrats were smart. If Democrats really wanted their spending priorities to be enacted, instead of merely creating issues to run on, that they'd stop harping about the budget being in deficit (during a recession!). After all, if everyone can accept the fact that during recessions the government will run a deficit, then it's much easier to pass these bills "that matter to ordinary people."
Unfortunately for these worthy programs, Democrats basically force Bush's hand when it comes to spending restraint. Every time the president spends more pork-laden appropriations bills the budget deficit grows -- and Democrats scream. If the president refuses to spend monies appropriated then programs whither on the vine -- and Democrats scream.
Damned if you do. Damned if you don't.
What are the political implications? When Al Gore wrote an Op-Ed article condemning the elitist policies of the Bush administration, pundits -- and many Democratic politicians, including his former running mate -- jumped on him with both feet. Populism, everyone insisted, doesn't work in American politics.
Yet conservatives enthusiastically rely on populism -- fake populism, based on staged shmoozing with ordinary Americans and attacks on the imagined cultural elitism of the liberal media. Why shouldn't liberals, who actually have the facts on their side, try engaging in the real thing?
Let me see if I get this right. For a politician to be for the "working people" of America -- he's got to give money to the government programs that give them some benefit (with a percentage off the top for administration).
Well, then I guess the only "working people" that Bush is allowed to praise are farmers. You know, the farm bill and all.
Clinton never engaged in "staged shmoozing with ordinary Americans." Nope. Not once.
Democrats are sincere. Republicans aren't. It's a nice, simple, black and white world that Krugman lives in.