Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Nussle Officially Takes Financial Helm of Bush’s Sinking Ship

Generally speaking, padding your resume with the title of director of the White House Office of Management and Budget would be considered a vertical move for political climbers. Jumping aboard President Bush’s S.S. Lame Duck, however, may have dire political consequences for former Iowa Rep. Jim Nussle, who was officially sworn in as Bush’s budget chief Monday. While a number of those in Bush’s cabinet have bailed ship, Nussle has agreed to sign on to Bush’s crew.

As his administration attempts to navigate the shark-infested waters of bloodthirsty Democrats before next year’s fiscal budget begins, Bush has chosen to “stay the course” and steer the S.S. Lame Duck, full throttle, toward the iceberg, Iraq. Meanwhile, the Democrat-controlled Senate has approved only one of the 12 House-passed appropriation bills to fund the new fiscal year starting Oct. 1.

President Bush offers to hold Nussle's sports jacket as he prepares to walk obligatory plank on S.S. Lame Duck

Now, armed with the threat of Bush’s newly discovered weapon of choice, VETO, Nussle will have to negotiate the budget with top congressional Democrats. Bush has already threatened to veto some budgetary items bound to plunge his approval ratings even deeper into the abyss of forgotten presidents. Bush’s current approval ratings are hovering around 30 percent, but these should plummet as GOP leaders, one by one, continue abandoning the president, who has chained himself to the budgetary elephant in the room, the war in Iraq.

Using his Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to do his dirty business, Bush has already indirectly threatened to veto a Veterans Affairs funding bill that would give the Department of Veterans Affairs as much as $3.8 billion more than the Bush administration proposed in its budget.

“If Congress increases VA funding above the president’s request and does not offset this increase with spending reductions in other bills, the president will veto any of the other bills that exceed his request until Congress demonstrates a path to reach the president’s top line of $933 billion,” the OMB said in a July statement.

Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Texas, chairman of the House veterans affairs appropriations subcommittee, responded, “This bill is about respect and honors the promises made to our veterans with historic increases in funding to provide them the health care and benefits they earned when they put on our nation’s uniform.”

If shortchanging our veterans isn’t bad enough, Bush has also threatened to veto legislation that would renew the popular State Children’s Health Insurance Program, which provides health coverage to poor children. The Senate has proposed a $35 billion boost over the next five years for the program, but Bush’s budget calls for only $5 billion, contending he doesn’t want to further expand the government’s role in health insurance at the expense of private insurance.

Even Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who strongly supported Nussle during his confirmation hearings, implored the president to rescind his veto threat in a joint statement with Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, warning the president that the Democrats might seek an expansion of $50 billion or more if there is no compromise.

"Tax legislation to expand health insurance coverage is badly needed, but there's no Democratic support for it in the SCHIP debate," said Grassley, the ranking Republican on the finance panel. "In the meantime, our SCHIP initiative in the Finance Committee takes care of a program that's about to expire in a way that's more responsible than current law and $15 billion less than the budget resolution calls for."

Grassley’s words fell on the president’s deaf ears, while the Ahab-inspired Bush fixates on the ubiquitous “War on Terror,” and his “stay the course” mentality in Iraq. Threatening to underfund wounded veterans and sick children makes one wonder: Who’s next? Senior citizens.

Enter Bush’s new messenger, OMB Director Nussle, whose job is deliver the Bush monetary mantra to Congress. Nussle has the unenviable task of trying to persuade Congress why they should scale back on domestic funding, while simultaneously convincing them why they should fund the money pit in Iraq. As he indicated in his swearing-in ceremony, Nussle has no plans of changing the president’s fiscal course and appears content with playing Bush’s rubber-stamp man.

"I believe government spending should be restrained and it should be transparent so taxpayers can see what results they are getting for their money," Nussle said, adding that he looks forward to advancing Bush's "pro-growth, low-tax policies that have strengthened our economy."

After soundly losing his 2006 gubernatorial bid in Iowa against Democrat rival Chet Culver (52 – 43 percent), Nussle’s political career appeared washed up. Nussle had abandoned his First-District seat in Iowa, which was usurped by Democrat Rep. Bruce Braley. During his political interim, Nussle took refuge as a consultant in Cedar Rapids, where he landed a consultant gig with Giuliani’s Iowa campaign.

Then along came Bush, who’s no stranger to appointing good 'ol boys who have been loyal to him. Not to mention, Bush has a soft spot for appointing those whose political careers have taken a nose dive. Take former Attorney General John Ashcroft, for example, whose career also appeared to be washed up when he lost his 2000 senatorial re-election bid in Missouri to a dead candidate, Mel Carnahan, who died in a tragic plane crash two weeks prior to the election.

And now Bush’s prodigal son, Nussle, has returned to the political nest in D.C. While other Bush appointees are jumping ship, citing a need to spend more time with family, or as was the case with former White House spokesman Tony Snow, to procure a job that makes more money.

Bush and Nussle swap deficit-spending jokes while sharing a limo ride on the tax payers' dime

Unfortunately, as Nussle sets sail with the S.S. Lame Duck, not only does he risk permanently drowning his own political career, but if he helps perpetuate Bush’s current fiscal policies, it’s the American people, who will ultimately suffer the consequences as we continue sinking our tax dollars into the monetary quagmire in Iraq. Although I imagine the Bush crew has mapped out its exit strategy for when the ship goes down, procuring enough life preservers for the wealthy folks on the upper deck, while the rest of us remain trapped in the lower decks as we fight for our lives, only to keep drowning in Bush’s sea of misguided fiscal policies.

Good luck, Mr. Nussle. P.S. Don’t forget to pack your PFD (personal floatation device) when leaving for D.C.

Originally posted on "Iowa Independent"