Thursday, June 28, 2007

Knowing Dick

I don't mean to take anything away from the otherwise excellent four-part Washington Post expose on Vice, but there were a couple of items that stood out from part three that seemed a little under-whelming to me.

In Tuesday's "Dominating Budget Decisions" segment, the post writers relate this account from the halls of the WH:

Perhaps more important than Cheney's influence in pushing policies is his power to stop them before they reach the Oval Office.

When Edward P. Lazear, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, broached the idea of limiting the popular mortgage tax deduction, he said he quickly dropped it after Cheney told him it would never fly with Congress. "He's a big timesaver for us in that he takes off the table a lot of things he knows aren't going to go anywhere," Lazear said.

Does anyone see the problem here? Any sixth-grader could tell you that fiddling with the "popular" mortgage tax deduction was gonna be a non-starter. I wouldn't credit Dick too much with having stifled that idea before it reached the President.

Then there's this matter of Vice chairing something called the budget review board, which, according to the Post writers, was--

....a panel the Bush administration created to set spending priorities and serve as arbiter when Cabinet members appeal decisions by White House budget officials. The White House has portrayed the board as a device to keep Bush from wasting time on petty disagreements, but previous administrations have seldom seen Cabinet-level disputes in that light. Cheney's leadership of the panel gives him direct and indirect power over the federal budget -- and over those who must live within it. [Read then-OMB Director Joshua Bolten's memo about the review board.]

At first glance this sounds pretty impressive, particularly that bit about arbitering budget disputes between cabinet heads and WH staff.

But then just a few paragraphs down we read

Cheney shared conservative trepidations about the president's signature education initiative, the No Child Left Behind Act, which gave the federal government more control over K-12 education. He has griped privately to confidants, such as economist and CNBC host Lawrence Kudlow, about the administration's failure to control spending. And in robust internal White House discussions, he raised concerns about the cost of the administration's decision to expand Medicare to include a new multibillion-dollar drug entitlement, but bowed to the political reality that the president had to fulfill a campaign promise.

So, while Vice has been chairing this budget review board, and serving as the administration's conservative conscience on spending matters, the administration has still managed to let spending spiral and enacted an expensive new drug entitlement to boot along the way.

Finally, let's think about taxes, particularly the president's tax cut packages. The Post writers are eager to give Dick a lot of credit for the president's tax policies, especially since Vice really wanted both a capital gains cut and a special write-off for business investment.

Says the Post writers--

Bush sided with Cheney on the dividends tax but thought it would be better to eliminate it altogether. The president was cooler on the capital gains tax, according to Conda and others. And having campaigned on a platform of compassionate conservatism, he expressed doubts about giving another income tax break to the wealthiest Americans, particularly because they would benefit the most from the elimination of the dividends tax, Hubbard said.

Hey, number 1, Bush campaigned on tax cuts and knew tax cuts would go to the highest income folks, so the Post writers inserting, and apparently buying, this line about Bush being cautious about proving more tax cuts for the rich doesn't ring true. Number 2, the Bush administration entered office with a budget surplus and given both the 2000 recession and the economic effects of 9/11, weren't likely to be directed off course from their tax cutting goals in any event. With or without Cheney, Bush was going to favor a tax cutting policy. And the signature item of the tax cuts were first, the income tax cuts, and second, the inheritence tax cut. The dividend and capital gains cuts, while important, were peripheral in the overall scheme of things.

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