Backlit by temporary spotlights flown to New Orleans, Bush vowed to spare no expense in what he called "one of the largest reconstruction efforts the world has ever seen." He added that "federal funds will cover the great majority of the costs of repairing public infrastructure in the disaster zone." Costs are estimated at $200 billion, very roughly what the U.S. expects to spend in Iraq this year.
And here’s the beauty part: In the short run, those billions will come mostly from the governments of China and Saudi Arabia in the form of Treasury Bond purchases. Eventually, of course, the debt must be repaid with interest, but not while Bush is president. Sweet.
Pressed by reporters for a ballpark estimate, the president shrugged. Rebuilding after Katrina, he said, would "cost whatever it costs." He vowed not to raise taxes. Unspecified cuts in other government programs supposedly would make up the difference.
Since Bush took office in 2001, government spending has risen by almost a third, from $1.86 trillion to $2.48 trillion, Newsweek reports. He has never vetoed a spending bill. In recently signing a $286.4 billion, pork-laden transportation bill—$250 million to build a bridge from a town of 8,000 to an island of 50 in a powerful Alaska congressman’s district, for example—Bush praised himself for doing it the "fiscally responsible way." Instead of raising taxes, he borrowed the money.
Bush "conservatism," see, is grasshopper conservatism. Party today, let the ants pay the caterer another day. Meanwhile, two little known, millionaires-only tax cuts enacted in 2001 will take effect next year. By removing ceilings on personal exemptions and itemized deductions, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities calculates that the provisions will cut income taxes on the top 0.2 percent of taxpayers an average of $20,000 each. The five-year budget cost is $35 billion. With hundreds of thousands homeless and destitute, do they really need it?
Then there’s that GOP obsession, the so-called "death tax" repeal. It’s valuable only to heirs (like Bush himself) who expect to inherit multimillion-dollar fortunes. Just over 1 percent of inheritors last year paid any estate tax at all. Roughly one-quarter of the total collected came from estates of more than $20 million.
The average estate tax paid in 2003, reports Ernest Dumas in the Arkansas Times, came to 17 percent. Middle-class wage earners pay higher withholding taxes. Contrary to GOP propaganda, most large estates consist of unrealized capital gains that have never been taxed at all.
Keeping the estate tax could pay for Katrina all by itself. Instead, Bush vows to ask Congress to make tax cuts enacted in 2001 for the wealthiest Americans permanent. Over a decade, that’s expected to cost an estimated $1.4 trillion at a time of record deficits. Can the nation afford it?
Read the entire piece here.