Friday, December 5, 2003

Like There’s No Tomorrow

Paul Krugman on the amazing short-sightedness of Bush & Company:

In the early months of the Bush administration, one often heard that “the grown-ups are back in charge.” But if being a grown-up means planning for the future — in fact, if it means anything beyond marital fidelity — then this is the least grown-up administration in American history. It governs like there’s no tomorrow.

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What really makes me wonder whether this republic can be saved, however, is the downward spiral in governance, the hijacking of public policy by private interests.

The new Medicare bill is a huge subsidy for drug and insurance companies, coupled with a small benefit for retirees. In comparison, the energy bill — which stalled last month, but will come back — has a sort of purity: it barely even pretends to be anything other than corporate welfare. Did you hear about the subsidy that will help Shreveport get its first Hooters restaurant?

And it’s not just legislation: hardly a day goes by without an administrative decision that just happens to confer huge benefits on favored corporations, at the public’s expense. For example, last month the Internal Revenue Service dropped its efforts to crack down on the synfuel tax break — a famously abused measure that was supposed to encourage the production of alternative fuels, but has ended up giving companies billions in tax credits for spraying coal with a bit of diesel oil. The I.R.S. denies charges by Bill Henck, one of its own lawyers, that it buckled under political pressure. Coincidentally, according to The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Henck has suddenly found himself among the tiny minority of taxpayers facing an I.R.S. audit.

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The prevailing theory among grown-up Republicans — yes, they still exist — seems to be that Mr. Bush is simply doing whatever it takes to win the next election. After that, he’ll put the political operatives in their place, bring in the policy experts and finally get down to the business of running the country.

But I think they’re in denial. Everything we know suggests that Mr. Bush’s people have given as little thought to running America after the election as they gave to running Iraq after the fall of Baghdad. And they will have no idea what to do when things fall apart.

Maybe they should think about calling a doctor.