Las fall, when I first heard about Bruce Bartlett’s then-forthcoming book,
Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy, I was eager to read it. A senior White House policy analyst in the Reagan Administration, Bartlett served as deputy assistant secretary for economic policy at the Treasury Department from the last year of the Gipper’s second term through the end of George H.W. Bush’s administration. A smart economist with libertarian economic views not too different from my own, he had his first job on Capitol Hill working for Texas Congressman Ron Paul (one of the few men who has retained his small-government principles despite decades on the Hill). Later, working for New York Representative Jack Kemp, he helped draft the Kemp-Roth bill — which, when passed (in slightly revised form) in 1981, helped spur the economic boom of the Reagan years.
Over his three decades in public life, he has consistently advocated cutting taxes and reducing the size of the federal government. (One does wonder what he thought when his boss in 1990, the first President Bush, betrayed his campaign promise and pushed through a tax increase.) I generally enjoy Bartlett’s columns (available here) because of his keen understanding of economic issues — and our shared libertarian principles. Given Bartlett’s domestic policy background, one would expect him to be critical of the current Bush Administration because the president has basically failed to follow the Reagan domestic policy agenda.
While the president has done a better job in his three most recent budgets of holding the line of federal spending (than he had in his first few budgets), he has still failed to veto a single bill, especially those spending bills “enhanced” with “Set-Asides,” federal money earmarked for “pet projects.” Those who want to see Gipper’s agenda realized should be upset about this failure to hold the line on federal spending.
Ronald Reagan’s agenda, however, involved more than just cutting federal spending. Indeed, while he wanted to reduce the size of (if not just plain eliminate) many federal programs, he saw national security as the paramount issue. Believing, when he took office, that we needed to counter the Soviet threat, the Gipper compromised with the Democrats who then controlled the House of Representatives and agreed to backtrack on some of his proposed spending cuts in order to get the increases in military spending he believed necessary to win the Cold War.