The latest reports on the nation's projected deficits are far from comforting. On the contrary, they are highly disturbing.
On Friday, the White House budget chief, Joshua Bolten, reported that he was anticipating a staggering $521 billion deficit for 2004. Last year, the deficit was $375 billion. At the time, the $375 billion deficit was the largest ever. Now we're adding yet another $146 billion on top of 2003's record deficit.
Meanwhile, the administration of President Bush revealed that the Medicare and prescription drug plan passed in November will cost a lot more than previously suggested. When the vote was taken, the White House claimed that the bill would cost $395 billion. Now officials say $534 billion is more accurate.
The House of Representatives approved the Medicare legislation by a 220-215 vote, with some representatives complaining of high-pressure tactics to get them to go along. Representatives of both political parties expressed concerns about the high cost of the bill, but those concerns were addressed with a promise that $395 billion would be the final cost. Wrong.
To get this bill passed, administration officials and the House leadership downplayed it price tag. Then, weeks after the vote was in the books, the truth later came out: "Sorry, the cost will actually be $139 billion more than we told you. You'll just have to deal with it."
The way the Medicare bill gained approval bears disturbing parallels to the way Bush gained support for his war resolution regarding Iraq. In that case, as we all remember, administration officials blanketed the air waves for several months with stark warnings about the danger Saddam Hussein's "weapons of mass destruction" posed to the United States and/or our allies. We believed it.
Now, our chief weapons inspector returns from Iraq to tell us there is no evidence of any such weapons. The White House response seems to be: "Sorry. It looks like we were given some bad intelligence. It happens. Not our fault."
Both of these episodes seriously call into question what is going on in Washington, D.C. When "errors" of this magnitude can happen, either the American people are being misled, or our political leaders and our government agencies are incompetent.
Further, no one appears to be taking responsibility for these failings. President Bush blames the intelligence agencies for the apparently unfounded reports about the weapons of mass destruction. Yet at the same time, Bush says he has "full confidence" in our intelligence-gathering network. Something doesn't add up.
Bush is the commander in chief. When there are failings, it is unseemly for the leader to blame his troops. Also, many voices in the intelligence community were raised in attempts to warn the administration that the reports about Iraq's weapons were not necessarily supported by the facts. Those voices were often subject to ridicule, or, even worse, their love of country was questioned.
And it's troubling that in the absence of weapons of mass destruction, Bush has tried to revise the stated reasons for going to war with Iraq. Suddenly it has changed to the liberation of the Iraqis, and to remove Saddam Hussein from power. And because there were "weapons program-related activities" going on over there.
Just what has happened here? Why does our national media not raise strong questions on these issues? Are we now a true nation of sheep, afraid to rock the boat no matter how high the stakes or how serious the potential damage to our democracy?