How far can George W. Bush and his White House team go? On the two biggest issues facing them–the war and the budget–there is no end to their disregard for the truth. “The Bush administration’s 2005 budget is a masterpiece of disingenuousness, blame-shifting, dishonest budgeting and irresponsible governing.” So say the editorialists of the Washington Post. It is hard to out-outrage these Washington insiders. Bush’s $2.4 trillion budget–which cuts back some domestic programs and includes $272 billion in tax cuts–includes a $521 billion deficit. But have no fear, Bush says. Under his five-year plan, the deficit will be cut by 2009. No way, counter analysts who inhabit the real world. Bush’s projections leave out hundreds of billions in expected costs. For instance, his budget includes no money for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan beyond September. (Is peace scheduled to break out on 9/30?) Moreover, by releasing projections that cover only the next five years, Bush avoids acknowledging the long-term impact of his tax cuts, which will hit the treasury like a missile in 2010. And it turns out that while Congress was recently debating the Medicare drug benefit legislation (what might well be called the Christmas in July for Drug Companies Act), the White House learned that the ten-year cost of the measure would not be the widely accepted figure of $400 billion but closer to $535 billion. Yet Bush and his helpers kept this crucial information from the public.

The Bush Administration also cannot handle the truth on Iraq and those absent weapons of mass destruction. “I want to know all the facts,” Bush said, as he agreed to form an independent commission to investigate the prewar intelligence–after having first opposed the idea, of course. This was reminiscent of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s hiring of a private investigator (after he won the election) to look into charges that he’d been a serial groper. Isn’t Bush already familiar with many of the facts? One issue is whether the intelligence analysts honestly botched the job and overstated Iraq’s WMD holdings. But the other is whether Bush and his underlings dishonestly hyped selective pieces of iffy intelligence in order to persuade (or scare) the public into backing their invasion of Iraq. Bush doesn’t need an inquiry to know if that occurred. And the evidence is already clear that on key elements of Bush’s case for war, his declarations were untethered from intelligence assessments. He claimed Saddam Hussein was “dealing” with Al Qaeda; intelligence analysts, members of Congress who have reviewed the prewar intelligence and even Colin Powell say the intelligence contained no strong evidence of that. Bush aides–most notably Dick Cheney–said Saddam had revived his nuclear weapons program. The intelligence was lacking on that point too.

An independent investigation is a good idea. But Bush, predictably, has undermined its credibility at the start. He’s insisted on a commission appointed by the White House, rather than one with commissioners selected by Congressional Republicans and Democrats and by the Administration (as was the independent 9/11 commission). And the White House has signaled that the commission’s final report will not come out until 2005–that is, after the election. Given that the House intelligence committee completed its review of the prewar intelligence in several months, there is no reason to believe a commission couldn’t do the same. Let’s not politicize the commission, some Bush-backers argue. But if GOPers want the next election to be a referendum on national security, shouldn’t voters have a complete picture of Bush’s performance?

In 2000, Bush campaigned as an advocate of responsibility. His staff even christened his campaign airplane Responsibility One. But, metaphorically speaking, that plane never took off. And it’s not flying now. When it comes to dealing with tough truths, Bush has gone AWOL.