Just As I Thought

Cleaning up the mess

An interesting column on some of the hurdles Kerry might face as president includes this provocative idea: that Republicans leave huge deficits for incoming Democrats in order to prevent them from implementing programs:

Confronting Democrats with deficits is a residue of Republican design. The pattern was set in the first days of the Reagan presidency, when budget director David Stockman acknowledged that the Reagan tax cuts were intended not merely to further enrich the rich but also to yield deficits so deep that no new domestic programs could be initiated by any Democratic successor.

George W. Bush has, if anything, gone Reagan one better, throwing so much money at the rich that he has jeopardized the long-term viability of Medicare and Social Security.

The question of what to do in the face of the Reagan and Pappy Bush deficits was the main issue facing Bill Clinton when he took office. The first months of his administration were dominated by a debate between such traditional liberals as then-Labor Secretary Robert Reich, arguing that the economy needed a stimulus program, and the more fiscally centrist economic policy coordinator (later Treasury secretary) Robert Rubin, arguing that deficit reduction was required to restore the confidence of the markets and get the economy chugging again. (One of the defining double standards of contemporary capitalism is that the deficits of a Democratic administration are cause for alarm, while Republican deficits are yawners.)

Clinton came down on Rubin’s side, forgoing much of his election program with the notable exception of universal health insurance, a proposal of Byzantine complexity that collapsed largely of its own weight. Now Kerry, in the face of the enormous Bush deficit, has been forced to conduct a preemptive Reich-Rubin discussion of his own, and he, too, has been compelled to come forth with a Rubinesque solution.

In a speech this month he announced that as president, he’d have to put on hold a number of the initiatives he’d proposed on the campaign trail — early education, for instance, though not the expansion of health insurance — until he’d retired a good chunk of the deficit.

In sum, the first years of a Kerry presidency are likely to be spent entirely on cleaning up Bush’s messes. It’s a dirty job, but someone’s got to do it.

1 comment

  • Ya know, there’s a tiny little part of me that almost wants Bush to be re-elected, just so he’ll have to deal with the mess he made. Unfortunately, that would mean inflicting four more years of him on the rest of the country.

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