Column: An Anaconda Deficit

News at Home

Mr. Carpenter holds a Ph.D. in American History and is a syndicated columnist.

As another week passed and another crisis came into focus, the Bush administration once again displayed its team colors as the Bad News Bears -- sans any hope of a cuddly Walter Matthau's reversal of fortunes. The informed and thus exceedingly nervous have taken to peeking at headlines with fingers crossed and a prayer muttered, imploring the gods for at least a sliver of good news for a change. But the gods and Bush II have been cruel, procreating instead one debacle after another. Handicappers predict more of the same.

The week that saw "postwar" American deaths in Iraq outnumber the official war's toll also greeted the worst fiscal news since Ronald the Gipper managed the economy with a Ouija board. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office was the bad news bearer.

Assuming, said the CBO, that the Republican White House and Republican Congress have their way -- and why wouldn't they -- the federal government over the next 10 years will rack up $5.1 trillion in additional deficit spending. The projection conflicted a trifle bit with the White House's oxymoronic Office of Management and Budget, which only last month announced that deficits would max out next year at $475 billion and then shrink to an insignificant $62 billion by 2008. True enough, said CBO analysts, unless one factors in reality. When exercising this unBushian option a 2008 deficit in excess of $500 billion reveals itself, and things start getting bad after that. One Washington think tank has the deficit reaching $650 billion in 2013.

What's more, the CBO's doomsday projection is a rather conservative one, as doomsdays go, since it assumes rosy economic growth next fiscal year and regular rosiness thereafter. Most economists and their forecasts are not so sanguine.

But wait, Bush apologists are sure to cry. The CBO also assumes annual increases in discretionary spending at around 7 percent -- a deplorable, but reversible, trend. Get real. With George W. hopped up on Rummy's stash of Pentagon goof juice, discretionary spending is sure to continue heading everywhere but down, and everyone knows it.

All told, declared the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, in 10 years the public debt will stand at $9.1 trillion. In 2013 we'll be forced to lay out $480 billion in interest alone. Just before W. took office -- and many mean that literally -- the CBO was projecting net interest payments of about $0 over the next 10 years. (2001 CBO estimate cited by the CBPP)

If that doesn't rock your world, this will. The Center went on to ask how the administration could possibly balance the budget by the final year of a second term, presupposing no tax increases as well as stable spending on Social Security, Medicare, defense and homeland security. The answer? All other government programs would have to be cut by a staggering 41 percent -- and we're talking spending reductions on matters that hit home for all Americans. In the Center's estimation, we're talking about draconian cuts in "education, veterans programs, law enforcement, transportation and infrastructure, environmental protection … biomedical research … unemployment compensation, Medicaid, the Children's Health Insurance Program, child care, the school lunch and food stamp programs, and Supplemental Security Income for the elderly and disabled poor."

The CBO's report and accompanying analyses have merely confirmed, of course, what other responsible observers have warned for 31 months: namely, this administration is creating an anaconda deficit that will crush government's every compassionate breath. In that sense, last week's revelatory headlines weren't news at all.

A fiscal nightmare, a foreign disaster, steady national decline and debasement -- so go events under modern conservatism's command. Full throttle we move from general chaos to conspicuous bedlam to blanket disorder marked by periods of intense upheaval. What crisis will the Bush administration sponsor tomorrow? Just cross your fingers and mutter a prayer that it's a small one.

© Copyright 2003 P. M. Carpenter

Mr. Carpenter's column is published weekly by History News Network and

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John Boase - 10/15/2003

This aussie, currently visiting the US of A, looks with amazement on US politics, not least on your burgeoning deficit. A turnaround in interest rates will focus a lot of people's thinking, comrades, and it is looming. Watch Mr Greenspan. I read elsewhere that citizens have borrowed to the hilt on cheap mortgage rates, are over their heads in credit card debt, are living in States with their own massive budgetary problems... 'tick, tick', I hear from the fiscal clock. Iraq will exacerbate the problem as it eats up money , no doubt to the delight of terrorist organisations.
Heard Condy Rice on the tv yesterday. I'm glad she's yours!
Yours in disbelief.
John Boase

Stan Holbert - 9/4/2003

Most Americans mean well, but are woefully uninformed about the rest of the world (in my humble opinion as an American who has lived many years in the USA and elsewhere). It might help shake up their complacent ignorance if, for example, the Brits were to boot out Tony Blair BECAUSE of his being the eloquent voice piece for Bush's deceptive yet inept international marauding. The recent and ongoing Iraq debacle will be a long-lasting stain on America, and the Americans who stood by and let Bush get away with it will have it their consciences for years to come, but the reality also is that if Europe had shown a modicum of energetic creativity, fortitude and farsightedness, the sort of rigorous and "or else" inspection promulgated by Hans Blix could have happened years earlier, instead of when (well after 9-11) it was just about too late to head off the Perle-Wolfowitz-Rumsfeld-Cheney juggernaut.

Andrew DeWit - 9/4/2003

You're absolutely right. But the polls indicate that a majority approve of Bush's performance overall. Of course, a lot of this is rooted in patriotism, the sense of being at war, boredom, and so on. And it's not as if the publics in the other industrial democracies are textbook-perfect examples of political interest and engagement. But America's political institutions (decentralization, weak parties, etc) make it difficult to put pressure on a popular president. So more than in the parliamentary systems it's up to the voters to give a damn about the fiscal and other implications of what is going on in Washington. The majority's evident lack of interest or concern in Bushism's reckless ideological crusades is imposing increasing costs on the rest of us, so naturally we get rankled. Were I an Iraqi the rant would have seared the screen.
Let's just hope that the real America rallies and boots whistle-ass and the other wimps out of the saddle.

James Jefferson - 9/3/2003

...but I invite you to recall, Mr. DeWit, that a majority of those voting in 2000 did not choose, or at least did not intend to choose Mr. Bush. It is indeed a sad commentary on our country that he was even a leading possibility then, but please do not lump all Americans together in your fury at his arrogant blunderings.

Andrew DeWit - 9/3/2003

Mr Carpenter's points are completely sensible, but I'm confident that the Bush regime's fiscal recklessness will only get worse. I used to believe in America, in its ostensible model of intelligent, democratic progress, but over the past two decades America's gone off the rails and got obscenely stupid, fat and dangerous. This barrel-butt and brain-dead hubris brings its own rewards, as you folks can yet perceive while having your minds further blanked by Fox. Watching America wreck its public finances and get wacked in Iraq afford me daily doses of ineffable pleasure, like a cellar full of the finest French wine. You told the rest of us to shove it, whipped a 3rd world army, slaughtered thousands of children and then had the moral cretinism to declare it courageous and inspired leadership. Well bon voyage, bakayaro.

Josh Narins - 9/2/2003

The CBO inflates the future figures at their estimated rate of inflation, which is not 7.7%, but more like 2.2%. 7.7% has been the average rate of growth in (discretionary?) spending over the last 5 years.

The CBO was also obligated to budget 540 Billion (+Inflation) more for Iraq, following their time-honored pattern of extending all payments out 10 years in the future. This year's supplemental for Iraq was 60 billion.

That said, this seems like both the continuation of the early budget-busting plans of the Reagan administration (precipitate a crisis to force the end of welfare, social security), AND/OR a shameless use of the Treasury to garner votes.

Roger Wright - 9/1/2003

You have a lot of thoughtful libertarian ideas, Jesse. Why resort to inane Ayn Rand Birch Society rhetoric ? If 100 privately-owned business corporations form a trade association in order to tackle common problems, does that make the dues they levy "stolen booty" ?

Carpenter is out to lunch with his wholesale worshipping of federal spending, but his real point, which you don't address, is that the Bush Administration pretends that it can cut taxes while jacking up military spending, by borrowing money without limit.
Somehow lenders will just keep opening their coffers to Uncle Sam in perpetuity, or maybe the economy will rebound to the moon if we all just max out on zero-interest SUV loans and load up on useless junk from K-mart.

If you must go off on a tangent and take Carpenter to task for his knee-jerk tax-and-spend instincts, you might at least criticize the government programs he endorses on their merits (e.g. DEmerits) instead of just shouting battle cries in favor of some mythical anarchical utopia where death and taxes are abolished.

It’s a holiday. Relax a little. The internet was created with help from government do-gooders. Carpenter is indeed overly apologetic of wasteful government but that doesn’t mean any centralized authority is per se bad.

Jesse Lamovsky - 9/1/2003

The idea of reducing the deficit by reducing government spending and allowing people to keep the money they earn never even occurs to P.M. Carpenter.

His ideal solution to the budget deficit is to employ the weapons of state to steal more of the gainful earnings of the productive sector of our society. The stolen booty can then be employed to pay for the centralized socialism he and other liberals and neocons so love. Shame on him for wanting to play on the envy and greed of people in order to facilitate action by the government that, were it practiced by individuals, would be classified as criminal.

At least the bondsmen of old didn't force people to pay for their own enslavement.

Peter K. Clarke - 9/1/2003

As a "liberal" figleaf, this just might work, however.