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Card Folds, and Bush Draws to the Inside | The Nation

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Capital Games

 Washington: a city of denials, spin, and political calculations. The Nation's former DC editor David Corn spent 2002-2007 blogging on the policies, personalities and lies that spew out of the nation's capital. The complete archive appears below. Corn is now the DC editor at Mother Jones.

Card Folds, and Bush Draws to the Inside

The White House doesn't seem to understand the meaning of the term "fresh blood." It usually refers to new blood that is introduced into an anemic entity--not blood taken from one organ of an unhealthy body and placed in another organ of that unhealthy body.

But that's what the surgeons at the White House have done in the transplant operation that removed Andrew Card (a former lobbyist for the automobile industry) as White House chief of staff and replaced him with Joshua Bolten, the White House budget director. George W. Bush did not select someone who might have a slightly different perspective on his administration. Bolten has been in the White House since Bush was first inaugurated. Moreover, he has overseen one of the larger disasters of the Bush presidency: its fiscal policy. Here's how those radicals at The Washington Post editorial board recently described the situation:

President Bush has presided over a 46 percent increase in the federal debt, from about $5.6 trillion [to about $8.8 trillion]. By contrast, during President Bill Clinton's two terms, the debt grew from less than $4 trillion to $5.6 trillion, a 28 percent increase -- and during the last few years of his presidency, Mr. Clinton actually began to pay down the country's "real" debt....

Mr. Bush has managed to rack up more new debt during his five years in office than the entire debt amassed by the United States through 1988. And there is more to come: The president's budget envisions the debt rising to $11.5 trillion by 2011. This means that an increasing share of an increasingly tight budget must be devoted simply to paying interest -- an estimated $220 billion this fiscal year alone. Remember: This is the president who entered office promising to pay off $2 trillion in debt held by the public over the next decade.....

[A]s the debt ceiling approaches $9 trillion, it's time to pause and consider the unabashed recklessness of the Bush administration's fiscal policies and its unwillingness to alter its tax-cutting course to accommodate new budgetary realities. "Future generations shouldn't be forced to pay back money that we have borrowed," Mr. Bush said in March 2001. "We owe this kind of responsibility to our children and grandchildren." Where is that responsibility now?

Of course, Bush is most responsible for that lack of responsibility. But sharing the responsibility for being that irresponsible is Bolten. And his office has done its best to hide the true impact of Bush's budget decisions. So says the Center on Budget Policy and Priorities in its analysis of the White House's last proposed budget:

A standard part of the President's budget each year is a summary table that shows the impact of the Administration's proposed policies on the deficit. (See Table S-12 on page 364 of last year's budget.) This year, however, the Administration has eliminated that table from its budget publications, presumably to deflect attention from the deficit-increasing impact of its proposals.

Not just the liberals at CBPP believe Bolten's Office of Management and Budget at the White House has been dishonest. The centrist budget hawks of Concord Coalition have also complained:

Bush's budget fails to account for policies the Administration clearly and repeatedly has staked out as goals policies that would significantly increase the short-term and long-term deficit. In addition, the budget resorts to a familiar combination of unrealistic assumptions and scorekeeping gimmicks that understate likely expenses, overstate likely revenues and hide the costs of certain initiatives. Lastly, the budget's five-year window and limited goal of cutting the 2004 deficit in half by 2009 serve to divert attention from the fact that current policy is unsustainable over the long-term.

For weeks, Republicans and pundits have been moaning about the need for change at the White House. On Monday, Sally Quinn, the grand-dame of Georgetown, had an "essay" in The Washington Post that was an open letter to Laura Bush, calling on her to save her husband's presidency by forcing a shake-up at the White House. (The First Lady knows staff changes: she is on her second chief of staff, her second policy director, her second social director, and her third press secretary.) Quinn even mentioned bouncing Card--but in favor of some Washington poohbah with credibility on Capitol Hill and among the commentariat.

That's not Bolten. He is merely another Bush loyalist, whose stewardship of the administration's budget policy hardly inspires confidence in his integrity. Couldn't the White House get a better donor for the needed transfusion? I suppose David Gergen wasn't available. Fred Thompson is too busy making television shows and raising money for Scooter Libby's defense fund. And James Baker? Well, Bush the Younger may still be smarting over his dad's secretary of state's opposition to the invasion of Iraq.

Anyway, the problem at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is not who's managing the staff. The problem is the combination of policies, priorities and visions of the fellow who lives there. The mess in Iraq cannot be undone by better staff work. Nearly $12 trillion in debt cannot be erased by a more effective communications strategy. Bush cannot be removed from the bubble of his own policies--and certainly not by a Bush lieutenant. This staff change is not about new blood. It's just the recycling of thin blood already low on oxygen. And the patient remains the same.

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