What Bothers Bruce Bartlett

I wish to say well done to two conservatives. First, Arnold Kling was also offended by this National Review nonsense. The other well done goes to the National Review for more wisdom and honesty from Bruce Bartlett:

I was asked to testify before a hearing of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee. I made it clear to them that I was a Republican, but they said they wanted me anyway. I suppose they knew that I have become very disturbed by the Republican party’s fiscal policy and they presumed that I would attack it. I did not disappoint them … It is just appalling that the recent highway bill had 5,000 “earmarks” in it. These are, almost without exception, utterly unjustified pork-barrel projects. I am further appalled by President’s Bush’s unwillingness to use his veto pen to maintain some semblance of fiscal discipline … But pork-barrel projects – even tens of billions of dollars worth – are not what has dug us into a fiscal hole. It is the rapidly escalating cost of entitlement programs. President Bush is well aware of the problems in this area. He eloquently explained the deteriorating fiscal condition of the Social Security program in many speeches this year, as part of his effort to reform that program and stabilize its finances for future generations.He was unsuccessful in large part, I believe, because he made the finances of the Medicare program — which were in far worse shape than those of the Social Security program to begin with — vastly worse by adding a huge, unfunded drug benefit. The Medicare program was already bankrupt and should have been the primary focus of Bush’s reform effort. Instead, he not only ignored Medicare’s looming crisis, he made it an order of magnitude worse.

Bruce is talking about eliminating – not simply deferring the prescription drug benefit. Even liberals have argued that this new entitlement was more expensive than necessary and it certainly adds to the taxes future generations will have to fund given that this White House refuses to increase taxes now. But I was bothered by one aspect of Bruce’s oped:

I explained that I am not particularly a deficit hawk and that the size of the Bush tax cuts does not bother me.

Federal tax revenues as a share of GDP have fallen from 20.8% in 2000 to 18.1% as of the second quarter of 2005, but Bruce prefers to focus on the fact that Federal expenditures have risen from 18.9% of GDP in 2000 to 20.4% as of the second quarter of 2005. Let’s say we repeal the Rx bill and eliminate the GOP driven pork barrel spending that he rightfully complains about. Let’s say we reduce Federal spending to only 19% of GDP. The General Fund deficit will still exceed the Social Security Trust Fund surplus unless we raise taxes. Of course, the National Review crowd might not wish to hear this message, but Bruce did deliver such a message to the Senate Democrats.