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Why Oh Why Are We Ruled by These [BLANKS]?

David Wessel of the Wall Street Journal sees eerie parallels between the Bushies foreign and domestic policy misadventures:

Capital - Bush's Course on Budget Parallels Iraq: The numbers in President Bush's budget add up -- arithmetically... if Iraq and Afghanistan cost only $50 billion in 2009 and nothing thereafter; if the president and Congress hold growth in annually appropriated domestic spending well below inflation; if they let the alternative minimum tax reach deeper into the middle class or raise taxes on others to prevent that; if Congress squeezes $66 billion (4%) from Medicare over five years.... If former Republican Treasury Secretary James A. Baker III and former Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton led a budget commission like their Iraq Study Group, what would they say?...

They would hardly need to rewrite their cover letter. "There is no magic formula.... However, there are actions that can be taken to improve the situation and protect American interests," they said in the Iraq report. "Many Americans are dissatisfied, not just with the situation... but with the state of our political debate.... Our country deserves a debate that prizes substance over rhetoric, and a policy that is adequately funded and sustainable."

William Gale of the Brookings Institution.... "The Bush administration's two signature policies have been the war in Iraq and consistent pressure for tax cuts," he argues. "On the surface, they look quite different and were advocated by different parts of the administration. Look a little deeper and some common patterns emerge -- so maybe this says something about the principles or management style of the Bush administration."... "[F]alsely rosy scenarios" about the post-Saddam landscape... unrealistic hope that the budget surplus was large enough to cut taxes without creating deficits... contingency planning was regarded by the Bush White House as a sign of weakness.... Smart critics... disregarded and shunned.... Only true believers remained to give the president advice. Eventually, Mr. Bush changed his team--hiring new secretaries of defense and Treasury--but too late to get credit from the public or to forge bipartisan consensus in Congress.

Imagine what might have happened differently had Mr. Bush installed Josh Bolten as chief of staff, Rob Portman as budget director and Hank Paulson as Treasury secretary at the start of his second term, instead of waiting two years. Might the conversation on Mr. Bush's ideas for limiting tax breaks for health insurance be bearing fruit, not just taking shape?...

OK. Take a breath. The U.S. economy is not Iraq, and today's headlines are upbeat... [thanks to] the unabated willingness of foreigners to lend to the U.S. is keeping interest rates down. But look ahead, and there is an unwelcome parallel between Iraq and the budget. Current policy is unsustainable, but there is no easy way out.... Baker and Hamilton had little apparent effect on the president's Iraq policy. Maybe they would have better luck on economics.

My view--which may be wrong--is that David Wessel is way optimistic when he hopes that Bolten, Portman, and Paulson will rebase the Bush administration's economic policies in reality. Bolten's tenure at OMB was unimpressive, and now Bolten appears to be reduced to wandering around Washington saying that he does too have power, and pointing to his ability to fire Harriet Miers as evidence of his strength. Portman's tenure at USTR was similarly unimpressive, and there are no signs that his influence was able to make the current Bush budget more of a policy and less of a propaganda department. And Cheney appears to have cut Paulson off at the knees and killed Paulson's back-channel Social Security negotiations--with no effective response from Paulson: there has been no statement from Bush that Paulson is Bush's chief economic policy adviser and speaks for him on economic policy issues.

In short, things are worse inside the Bush administration than David Wessel believes.