Molly Ivins

The Un-Tax and Spend President


My fellow Americans, the state of the union’s finances is enough to make an Enron accountant gag. When George W. Bush took office, he was handed a going concern. Projected annual surpluses from 2002 to 2011 were $5.6 trillion. In its most recent projection, the Congressional Budget Office says it expects $1.9 trillion in total deficits from 2005 to 2014. Bush’s new future spending proposals—including everything from the goofy manned-flight-to-Mars to the promotion of marriage—already total an additional $2 trillion.

When Bush took office, the national debt was $5.7 trillion and his first budget proposed to reduce it by $2 trillion over the next decade. Today, the debt is $7 trillion. Last year, Bush predicted a deficit of $262 billion. According to the CBO, the deficit is currently $477 billion. Bush plans to cut biomedical research, health care, job training and veterans’ funding, and that still leaves a projected deficit of $450 billion.

It is unclear to me why anyone would believe anything the president says about our fiscal situation. Keep in mind, this is a man who took three Texas oil companies into bankruptcy.

I anticipate a painful skewing of the statistics on jobs, but there’s not much even the finest spinners can do with the basic problem. Under Bill Clinton, the economy gained an average of 236,000 jobs every month. Under George W. Bush, the economy has lost an average of 66,000 jobs a month. Nor is the news getting better. Last month, the economy, supposedly in full recovery, added 1,000 jobs. The economy needs to generate 150,000 jobs a month just to absorb new workers.

Not only are the two million jobs we have already lost not coming back, but the trend will continue. Recently The Wall Street Journal wrote about IBM’s plan to shift 3,000 high-paying jobs overseas, known as “off-shoring.†We are not just hemorrhaging manufacturing jobs. As the Journal reports, “This ‘off-shoring’ process has raised fears that even high-skill jobs that were supposed to represent the U.S.’s future are being lost to countries that have already taken over low-skill factory work.†In other words, your nice, middle-class butt is on the line here.

There are, of course, some jobs that cannot be exported—farms cannot be moved to another country, nor can restaurants. So the president proposes a giant new bracero program to import foreign workers legally to fill those jobs. As Jamie Galbraith wrote in Salon, the online magazine: “There is no reason to believe the Bush administration’s hand-wringing over its pathetic record on employment. The president’s backers want a stagnant job market—it keeps the help from getting uppity.â€

In another sign of how deeply Bush cares about workers, the plan to end overtime pay for millions of workers is back. You may recall this little charmer from last year, the Bush proposal to “update†the Fair Labor Standards Act. Both the House and the Senate nixed the idea by passing an amendment proposed by Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, but in the magic way of the Republican-run Congress, the amendment was later dropped from a spending bill after heavy pressure from the White House.

Now, in another move typical of the administration, they plan to bypass Congress altogether and issue the new regulations as an “administrative rules change,†to go into effect in March. The administration claims the new regulations will extend overtime pay to an additional 1.3 million low-income workers. That would certainly be a good thing, except for the fact that it would exempt another 8 million workers from getting overtime by reclassifying them as management or professionals. Another great deal for the corporations—they get to cut overtime for a lot of higher-paid workers and only have to add a few lower-paid workers. Do you really have any doubts about whom this administration is being run for?

We will of course have to listen to the president tell us how wonderful his Medicare drug coverage bill is. I thought there could be no more masterly dissection of that fraud than the one in the January issue of Harper’s magazine, in which Lewis Lapham takes the repulsive thing apart. His incisive essay is a model of legislative analysis that should be studied by all political writers. But he actually missed one item found by The Wall Street Journal.

Bush said late last year, “If there’s a Medicare reform bill signed by me, corporations have no intention to dump retirees (from existing drug coverage).

What we’re talking about is trust.†The bill includes a special tax subsidy to encourage employers to retain prescription drug coverage for their retirees. But, oops, the Journal reports the White House quietly added “a little-noticed provision†to the bill that allows companies to severely reduce or almost completely terminate their retirees’ drug coverage without losing out on the new subsidy. And guess what? The major backers of that “little-noted provision†are all major donors to Bush and the Republican Party. It’s not about trust, it’s about money.

Molly Ivins is a nationally syndicated columnist. Her new book with Lou Dubose is Bushwhacked: Life in George W. Bush’s America (Random House).