The next president, whether it be Republican John McCain or Democrat Barack Obama, will be in handcuffs as he parades into the White House after his Jan. 20 inauguration.
He won't be physically manacled. But he will be fiscally handcuffed from Day One as a result of the ideologically driven foolishness and sloppy excesses of President George W. Bush's administration.
The White House is projecting a record federal budget deficit of $482 billion for the 2009 fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. Former Bush administration Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill predicts a "mind-boggling number ... upward of $500 billion."
For the current fiscal year, the White House forecasts a $389 billion deficit.
Longtime budget hawk and former presidential candidate Ross Perot Sr. notes that the national debt of nearly $9.6 trillion "is increasing by over one billion dollars every day."
Perot's observation is on a video on his new Web site. On it, he also offers this sobering observation: "We are leaving our children and grandchildren with a burden they cannot possibly manage."
That is Bush's sad legacy.
As a father and grandfather, it rankles me.
Oh, but Bush — the nation's first MBA president, mind you — had such grand plans! His tax cuts for the rich would foster economic growth and job creation, resulting in more tax revenues, and everything would be rosy. The string of budget surpluses rung up by the Clinton administration would continue unabated.
But look where we are in the twilight of Bush's tenure. America has experienced seven straight months of job losses. The housing crisis is the worst since the Great Depression. Energy and food prices have soared. An almost-anything-goes regulatory approach has produced an epidemic of bad subprime loans, spiraling credit-card debt and a tsunami of property foreclosures and bankruptcy filings.
The wages of many Americans aren't keeping up with inflation. Millions of middle-class households from Florida to California have seen their net worth (assets minus liabilities) wither as a result of falling home values, higher personal debt and a shrinking 401(k) hammered by a declining stock market.
Republicans' once-logical claim to being the party of small government has been eroded by Bush's presidency. While the Bush tax cuts continue to restrict government revenues, spending has soared for entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare (including a costly new prescription drug program), defense, education and other departments.
Interest payments on the national debt totaled an enormous $377.3 billion during the first nine months of the current fiscal year — the fourth-highest spending category in the budget.
Meanwhile, Bush and Congress have failed to address the scary long-term funding shortfalls facing Social Security and Medicare.
That's the biggest reason for Perot lamenting about "leaving our children and grandchildren with a burden they cannot possibly manage."
Bush's fiscal irresponsibility will handcuff the next president by limiting his options.
The new guy will have to spend much of his time just mopping up the mess.
Disappointingly, the policy positions espoused by McCain and Obama don't provide the degree of fiscal sobriety that Washington must embrace. Neither candidate can deliver on all his promises, while simultaneously shrinking the deficits and meaningfully addressing Social Security and Medicare.
If you want the unvarnished truth about our fiscal foundering in Washington, you'd be better advised to turn to the Web sites of such budget watchdogs as the Concord Coalition or Perot.
McCain and Obama apparently don't believe that they can get elected by fully prescribing the bitter medicinal cocktail — higher taxes and reduced spending — needed to cure the ills that Bush has foisted upon us.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Jack Z. Smith is an editorial writer for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Readers may write to him at 400 W. 7th Street, Fort Worth, Texas 76102, or via e-mail at email@example.com.