Suddenly, everyone’s a fiscal conservative

My heavens. President Bush and the Democrats have begun the new Congress preaching from the same page — restraining spending and balancing the budget.

It is an unfamiliar sermon for them both. Bush did nothing for six years to stop the reckless overspending of his fellow Republicans and the Democrats, who could say anything they liked while in the minority, but now have to make good on their words now that they are in the majority.

The president, with an admirably straight face, called on Democrats to “end the dead-of-night process” of packing lawmakers’ pet pork projects into bills, not something he vigorously campaigned against before or ever used his veto pen to enforce.

And, Bush piously warned in an op-ed, “If Congress chooses to pass bills that are simply political statements, they will have chosen stalemate.” Political statements? Where has he been the last six years? Where was he last summer, for that matter? When his Republicans abandoned their legislative duties to vote on flag burning and gay marriage just to fire up their supporters?

Both the president and the Democrats are promising to balance the budget in five years. Balancing the budget would be difficult enough without the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, expected to cost $170 billion this year. Democrats are promising to preserve middle-class tax cuts, increase spending on education and homeland security, close the gap in the drug benefit — and shrink the deficit to zero by 2012. Neat trick, if they can pull it off.

Bush could contribute immeasurably to the reality of this debate and prove the seriousness of his intentions by including the costs of the war in the annual federal budget he is to submit Feb. 5. To date, the war has been funded by emergency supplemental spending that not only escapes normal congressional scrutiny but is not calculated against the deficit or Congress’ annual spending caps.

It is a new year and a fresh start in Washington, and we, the long-suffering public, should grant them the sincerity of their intentions. Miracles do happen, and to balance the budget will take one.