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Add it up

The Bush White House spending $23,000 in taxpayers' money for flag pins and other patriotic-type jewelry (as the Washington Post reported) isn't all that big a deal, even if such expenses are usually considered political and not governmental — but combine it with the White House's requesting a 9.3 percent budget increase for its own budget in 2004, as compared to its demand for no greater than a 4.1 percent increase for the federal government as a whole, and you have to start to wonder — just when do Bush & Co. intend to practice any of that austerity they so self-righteously have been preaching?

February 13, 2003 3:06 PM

Comments (and TrackBacks)

Good question. While you're at it, why don't you ask House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D- San Francisco) why her propsed federal budget includes one million dollars for HER campaign treasurer (and the treasurer of HER personal PAC) to establish a "think tank" at the Univ. of San Francisco with him as its head? Your nit-pick is over the President not being sufficiently conservative with taxpayer money. My nitpick is over a Democrat House leader using taxapayer money specifically to enrich (politically and financially) a trusted advisor.

Posted by Phillip on February 22, 2003 2:14 AM

Heh. I didn't know San Francisco had its own U.S. Congressman. But, no, I quite agree, that should be looked into, and Pelosi should account for it.

Are you implying somehow that her actions mean that it doesn't matter whether Bush's claims (in the State of the Union, actually) in fact describe his White House's actual policies? I'm not sure what you're getting at.

Posted by M on February 22, 2003 12:27 PM

You're being coy. Let's take this one step at a time, so you know what I'm getting at.

BTW, here's the address to Rep. Pelosi's official page, titled "Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, California's 8th District, San Francisco": http://www.house.gov/pelosi/. She used to be my Representative.

Your comment "you have to start to wonder - just when do Bush & Co. intend to practice any of that austerity they so self-righteously have been preaching?" encourages the inference that the flag pins, and an increase in the White House budget in excess of the overall budget, show Bush was not acting or speaking in good faith when calling for the 4.1 percent limit on the overall budget increase.

Your leading query "it doesn't matter whether Bush's claims (in the State of the Union, actually) in fact describe his White House's actual policies?" also encourages the implication that the President is not serious about limiting budget growth, or at least feels he is not personally limited by them. I especially like your use of "Bush" and "his White House" in encouraging that response in the reader.

But that kind of argument is precisely the sort of "politiking" that you criticize elsewhere, and imply you don't engage in, in your other message to me regarding your 2/20 posting.

The pin-givaway issue is a non-starter - the Post article does not say that such items are never paid for with federal funds (just that they virtually always are) and I'd argue this is a propoganda expenditure of the type commonly made with federal funds in times of war, not a thanks-for-coming take-away like the Bill Clinton golf ball I have on my desk.

But the White House budget issue came up because the Democrats want to make hay by charging that the administration is "hypocritical." (Readers - follow M's link to the Washington Post article if you don't subscribe already.)

The Democrat's argument is faulty, and your comments are misleading. The White House called for the 4.1% increase limit on the premise that "Federal spending should not rise any faster than the paychecks of American families." No one stated that portions of the federal budget could not increase more than the overall amount, any more than portions could increase less than that amount or even face reductions. The same is true for the "average American family" that was the benchmark for the increase - spending on vacations may go up one year, so spending on new clothes may go down to keep things in line. So, no Bush hypocrisy there.

More to the (political) point, regardless of the amount at issue, increases in budget for the White House do not necessarily mean that the President is "preaching the virtues of frugality while trying to pocket a huge raise for his own office", as the Democrats' David Sirota charges - with the implication that the President and his staff are living it up at 1600. As the Washington Post reported, the White House says much of the increase is due to security issues around the President. This is entirely appropriate given the times. The article also itemizes other budget adjustments in other offices. Which of those do you object to? Why? Do you have other information you can share showing that these adjustments are inappropriate? There is no evidence to support the implication that the President is fluffing his pillows - and no hyposcrisy.

But you seem to begrudge the president's White House budget anyway. Are you saying that, for example, in risky times we can't increase security around important symbols or important command and control nodes, if related costs increase more than an average federal increase that includes, say, the hikes in budget of the U.S. Printing Office, or the cafeterias at Bureau of Land Management field offices?

Finally, as also discussed in the article, the 2004 percentage increase may appear larger than it would oterhwise be, because certain costs previously associated with the White House were moved elsewhere. This brings up a more subtle point. An absolute dollar amount will comprise a progressively smaller portion of a progressively larger sum - that's the Law of Large Numbers at work. So if, as here, one measures changes in a set of positive integers (budgets of parts of the gov't), both as a set (the overall budget) and as individual integers (the parts), using a percentage, increases in smaller integers will tend to be observed as a larger percentage increase than increases in larger integers. The upshot? For example - Say the White House budget is smaller than the budget of the Congress. Hire one additional security guard for each. The resulting budget increase for the White House, as a percentage, will be larger than that for the Congress. And, it will be larger than the percentage increase of a sum that includes both the White House and the Congressional budget. That's just numbers - not hypcorisy.

Now, regarding Rep. Pelosi. The party of which she is a Congressional leader is charging that the Bush Administration is warping the tax code solely to benefit its close, fat-cat supporters, and is trying to impoverish the (presumably Democratic-voting) middle-class. And, some in that party have charged that our entire foreign policy is designed to benefit Bush and his defense- and oil-industry connected friends at the expense of lives and national prestige. But here is Pelosi, slipping a cool million of federal cash into the pockets of her well-connected friend. Now, THATS hypocrisy.

Posted by Anonymous on February 23, 2003 6:21 PM

You are of course largely correct, and mostly on target. I entirely agree that budget increases beyond 4.1 percent may well be appropriate, and that there may be reasons why the White House's budget should grow faster than other departments'. However, I am reacting to two things here. First, that the White House budget is growing by what seems like (though admittedly I don't know how it works out in actual dollars -- but I suspect the White House budget isn't that small) a substantially larger percentage (9.3 percent) than the 4.1 percent Bush advertised in his SotU; and, second, I know of at least one case where the White House spent the public's money in its own party's interests.

Does this make Bush a hypocrite? I have no idea. But he's the one telling the public he's doing all these great things. From what I'm actually seeing, I'm not so sure; all I've seen are indications the other way. That's all.

As for this being a politically motivated argument, I'm not sure how you can conclude that. Should I only hold my president accountable for his words if I don't support him? That doesn't sound right to me. He has an obligation to all the citizens of this country, not just those that voted for him.

I was being coy, you are right. But you are misreading my thrust here; I have no horse in any political race. George Bush is my president, for better or for worse, and I am concerned about much of his policy. If my concerns are not legitimate, I would in fact be glad to hear it, and if you ever find me indicating otherwise (presumably in order to score more political points on him, but for any reason whatever), then I would be glad for you to call me on it, and I will readily own up.

Posted by M on February 23, 2003 7:09 PM


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