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W: Inarticulate or Deceptive?
Page 1, 2, 3

Blowing Smoke

Tobacco is another public health issue on which Bush’s actions have spoken louder than the administration’s words. During the presidential campaign, candidate Bush made little mention of the fact that he opposed the federal government’s tobacco lawsuit. The suit seeks to recoup $100 billion from the tobacco industry for health costs associated with caring for sick and dying patients suffering from smoking-related illnesses.

Less than a month before Election Day, Daniel Gross wrote in an article for that "searching for comments by Bush on tobacco is a little like seeking out fans of rap star Eminem at the Metropolitan Opera's excellent new production of Don Giovanni. There might be a few somewhere out there, but they're tough to find." [, 10/19/00]

It is entirely possible that no one who voted for Bush, outside of the tobacco industry, even knew that Bush intended to end the lawsuit. It is noteworthy, too, that very little was made of the revelation in the Washington Post that the Bush budget called for the virtual elimination of funds for the lawsuit. According to the Post, of the $57.6 million that lawyers for the Justice Department estimate they will need this year to continue the lawsuit, "the budget proposed by President Bush holds the budget at $1.8 million for a staff of 31." [WP, April 25, 2001]

Instead of addressing the issue directly, the administration has offered only dissembling statements. Mindy Tucker, spokeswoman for the Justice Department, told the Post that "the agency's budget is ‘neutral’ on whether to continue the lawsuit."

Bush’s statements on his top budget priorities are also difficult to reconcile with the facts. Bush has repeatedly promoted education as his "number one budget priority." However, in looking at the budget, it is clear that this assertion depends entirely on what your definition of "priority" is.

Bush’s budget calls for a $4.6 billion increase in education spending in 2002, a little more than a 10 percent increase over last year. While this is clearly a different tack on education policy than the Newt Gingrich revolution of 1994, which called for the elimination of the Education Department, the increase pales in comparison to the increases that Al Gore proposed during the campaign. Gore proposed spending $176 billion over 10 years, or $17.6 billion per year, more than three times Bush’s education budget increases for next year.

Bush’s education increase is also significantly less than the 18 percent jump in the education budget from last year, up $6.5 billion from $35.6 billion to $42.1 billion. Compare the Bush education budget to his proposed $1.6 trillion tax cut over the next 10 years, an average annual tax cut of $160 billion, about 97 percent more than the $4.6 billion increase for education.

Prescription Drugs

Bush’s plans for a prescription drug coverage program are equally misleading. During the campaign, Bush asserted his intention to provide a prescription drug coverage plan under the Medicare program. In the third presidential debate, Bush closed with the promise, "we're going to reform Medicare to make sure seniors have got prescription drugs."

In his budget, Bush has proposed spending a little more than $15 billion per year over 10 years for such a prescription drug program, an amount roughly 9 percent of his average annual tax cut over the same period of time. The Senate has already acknowledged that a national prescription drug plan would be much more expensive than Bush proposes and nearly doubled this figure to roughly $30 billion per year. It is worth noting that the Senate figure is a little more than the 10-year, $253 billion plan that Al Gore proposed during the campaign.

Despite the record, many in the press praised Bush's first 100 days as "surprisingly competent" or offered some variation of that theme. Their rave reviews tended to ignore the confusion over Bush's policies by focusing on style over substance. There has been little comment about what appears to be the chief pattern emerging from the early days of the Bush II administration: What Bush says is often a far cry from what his administration does.

Whether a sign of incompetence or intent, the discrepancies are mounting. During the remaining 1300 days of Bush's term, Mitchell's words could serve as a useful reminder, "Watch what we do, not what we say."