President Bush proposed spending $12.35 billion on the Title I education program in the fiscal 2004 education budget. The number was incorrectly written as $12.35 trillion in the White House Notebook column on the April 8 Federal Page. (Published 4/9/03)
For the Bush White House, past is prologue.
When President Bush, with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar at his side, was asked in Crawford on Feb. 22 why he had the support of only four Security Council members for an Iraq resolution, he responded with a history lesson.
"This discussion sounds vaguely familiar," Bush said. "I think I remember getting asked the same questions prior to the last resolution, the Resolution 1441 that passed 15 to zero. . . . And so the clarity of vision that took place four months ago I'm confident will be in place after the Security Council takes a good look at the facts."
Similarly, when White House press secretary Ari Fleischer was asked on Jan. 9 about early objections in the Senate to Bush's $726 billion tax cut proposal, the press secretary brought the conversation back two years.
"I think really you are seeing something very similar to 2001, and that is, the president makes the proposal, Congress takes its time to review it, and as time goes along, support grows for the package," he said. On Feb. 20, Fleischer told reporters: "The president today will also receive the endorsement of Democratic Sen. Zell Miller for his tax plan, which starts to remind you a little bit of the pattern in 2001."
As it turns out, history did not repeat itself in either case. The administration withdrew its second Iraq resolution in March in the face of certain defeat on the Security Council. And the Senate last month voted to halve Bush's tax cut.
Still, this has not shaken the administration's belief in past patterns. Two weeks ago, the White House invited reporters to a West Wing briefing by a "senior administration official" who declined to be named. When the subject turned to the war's progress, the briefer reported a feeling of "deja vu."
"I'll just remind everybody that in Afghanistan, we were a couple of weeks into the conflict and there were all kinds of stories about 'bogged down,' " the official said. "Let's remember the 79-day bombing campaign in Kosovo. It was failing, it was failing, it was failing."
The war in Iraq may or may not turn out to be as successful as Afghanistan or Kosovo. What is clear, though, is the administration's past-as-prologue belief has an effect on its strategy: It relies on the same playbook in hopes of producing the same results.
Consider the effort to sell Bush's $726 billion tax cut, in which the president has been recycling many of the lines he used to sell his $1.5 trillion tax cut in 2001 when there was a surplus. "The money in Washington, D.C., is not the government's money -- it's the people's money," he said earlier this year. Bush has revived such arguments even though there is no longer a surplus of the "people's money" -- a fact noted in a March 13 letter by two Democrats and two Republicans in the Senate who, citing "debt and deficit projections," called for the tax cut to be reduced by half.
Of course, Bush's tax cut could still be restored in the weeks ahead. If not, the White House is in danger of proving Karl Marx's view that history repeats itself -- the second time as farce.
Fact Check: The Education Department last week distributed a fact sheet titled "Extra Credit" to "education leaders" announcing that "if President Bush's 2004 proposed education budget is enacted, Title I funding will have increased 41 percent since No Child Left Behind was signed into law." When the "No Child Left Behind" legislation was signed in January 2002, spending on the Title I education program was $10.35 billion (Bush had requested $9.06 billion). The president's proposal for 2004 is $12.35 trillion, a 19 percent increase.
Unmask the Senior Administration Official: The White House last week released the transcript of a briefing by a "SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL Aboard Air Force One." Under White House rules, the official could not be named, but careful readers may detect a clue:
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There was a Marine minister there. There was no prayer.
Q Ari, did you ever discuss that one? I mean, that statement that Scott referenced . . .
"What you're seeing is fiction. You're seeing second-guessers out there."
-- Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, complaining about uninformed outsiders' criticism of the Iraq war plan, March 30, on ABC's "This Week."
"I think it was a mistake to say that we would not use ground forces, because it simplifies the problem for Milosevic. We constantly say we're not gonna hit these targets, we are gonna hit those targets, we're gonna bring in Apaches or A-10s, but we're not gonna do it for two or four or six weeks."
-- Rumsfeld, chairman of Gilead Sciences Inc., discussing the Clinton administration's Kosovo war plan, April 26, 1999, on CNBC's "Hardball."