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Pass the Prozac
June 12, 2002
By Joseph Arrieta

“When will the insanity ever end?” Secretary Paul O’Neill asked Congress plaintively last month. The beleaguered Secretary was in the extremely uncomfortable position of pleading for more debt ceiling so the government had the cash to pay its bills.

Poor Paul. He did indeed shift some retirement accounts around so the US didn’t default, but the budget insanity for 2002 is only just beginning.

“Follow the money,” Deep Throat famously said. Although one can’t learn everything about US politics from watching the federal budget process, it still gives an excellent annual opportunity to watch politicians in action, and also to see how they tangibly back up—or don’t back up—their rhetoric with cold hard cash.

Fair warning to the concerned citizen who follows the 2002 budget process closely: have at least 2 mental escape routes concretely planned. Doesn’t matter if it’s prozac, exercise, sex, alcohol, research, thorazine, gardening, whatever—diversions that last for at least 48 hours are absolutely necessary or one will become as insane as the federal budget process itself.

“I want freedom, but I don’t want to pay for it,” whined Representative Watts (R-OK), giving alert budget-watchers a Maalox moment late last month. The republicans had attached the debt ceiling measure to a popular defense bill, hoping to speed its passage. Citizens of principle desperately reached for the antacid, knowing full well that Republican tax cuts had wiped out the surplus and forced the country into debt. Watts was browbeating a point he was precisely responsible for, oblivious to the irony and the hypocrisy. Those among us who truly care about fiscal discipline took Xanax.

But before the republicans are humiliated over raising the debt ceiling (Daschle will make sure of it) or Congress even takes on its first appropriations bill, another matter must be solved first. Until it is, there is zero chance of any presidential leadership available for the 2002 budget process.

"I want to remind you what I told the American people, that if I'm the president--when I was campaigning, if I were to become the president, we would have deficits only in the case of war, a recession, or a national emergency." President Bush used this line frequently over the last year at partisan speeches, usually as a prelude to a very-unfunny joke. (1)

The only problem is that it’s a complete lie. Bush never said any such thing campaigning or anywhere else. As far as presidential lies go this one is a little unusual: it was never provoked. A politician is most likely to lie only when being cornered by circumstance or cleverly trapped by the questioner. For whatever reason Bush felt it necessary to make up a complete fantasy in front of friendly audiences in order to rationalize his inept leadership in trashing the federal budget.

Reporters, of course, researched the issue and found nothing—everything the President says publicly is recorded in many ways and formats. Trapped, Bush minions lied some more, only to be caught in a viciously downward spiral of lying to cover the lies. (2)

Tim Russert brought up the whole sorry affair yet again this last Sunday. More lying from haplessly inept Bush lieutenants followed. For a television reporter to pick up on the story should have raised a huge red flag for Andy Card—Bush is often caught lying in print (3), but for some strange reason the twisted creatures of television journalism disdain technical dishonesty on “arcane” government matters and won’t report it. But when lying tries to cover something racy like sex or mental fantasy, television is all over it.

That’s the Republicans' problem. The Bush budget fantasy story is not going to go away. ABC Notebook commented on the Russert stab Monday, stating that sooner or later, one way or another, somebody will have to admit that Bush just made the whole thing up.

Credibility and strength of dogma must come from somewhere to implement budgetary strategies. Congressional republicans of course look to the president to provide it. But there is absolutely no way the Republicans have any credibility or political cover to play their budget games if the story is out there that the president made budgetary statements proving he’s a liar, and perhaps delusional.

Yes, it has indeed come to this. Before the Congressional Republicans can fund a useless missile defense system that doesn’t work (test results now kept secret), cut taxes for the rich, fund sexual education that just says Don’t Do It, pass a debt ceiling so the government can go 6.5 trillion into debt (which they will then use to lard out innumerous smelly pork rinds of cash to campaign donors)—well, we all just have to come square with the fact that the President lied about his budget philosophy. Very badly. Once that’s done, why, we can get back to the sort of lying television won’t cover.

For Republicans used to ripping off the public with tax cuts for the super-wealthy, such an admission will only mean a Maalox moment for most of them. For the principled among us, only a good stock of prozac will do for that day.

1. Jonathan Chait, The New Republic. The joke then goes to state Bush hit the "trifecta," meaning that he got incredibly good luck in being able to wiggle out of all the lies he told the year before in getting his tax cut passed. The President of the Untied States invoked humor over 9/11 and the recession just after publicly fantasizing a process he made severe errors with. God Bless America.

2. Ibid.

3. “I read the report that came out of the bureaucracy,” Bush said, referring to the now infamous EPA report that stated humans did indeed influence global warming. He lied. He never read it.

Joseph Arrieta is a writer and web producer living in San Jose, California.

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