Restless Republicans Can't Look to Mitch Daniels

Article excerpt

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels gave a perfectly serviceable Republican response to President Barack Obama's State of the Union speech last week. It was a bit dull, maybe, but it wasn't a wrenching exercise in self-humiliation. Which is to say, by the standards of post-SOTU responses, it was a stunning, historic success. But it was also a reminder of the difficulties Mr. Daniels, a fantasy-draft presidential pick for many Republicans, would face if he entered the campaign.

"When President Obama claims that the state of our union is anything but grave," Mr. Daniels said, "he must know in his heart that this is not true." And the reason for Mr. Daniels' gloom was debt. We have too much of it. Much too much of it. And over and over again, Mr. Daniels signaled that Republicans were not blameless in the rise of red ink. "The president did not cause the economic and fiscal crises that continue in America tonight," he said. "To make such action happen, we also must work, in ways we Republicans have not always practiced, to bring Americans together," he admitted.

What Mr. Daniels didn't say is that he, Mitch Daniels, held a command post during many of these mistakes.

Mr. Daniels was George W. Bush's first budget director. He served from 2001 to mid-2003. That is to say, he oversaw the first round of tax cuts, the initial cost estimates of the war in Iraq and the development of the deficit-financed Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit. During his time as Mr. Bush's budget director, the deficit increased by almost $200 billion. After he left, the policies he helped pass would add trillions more to the deficit. They are still adding to the deficit today.

These policies cannot all be laid at Mr. Daniels' feet. It is unlikely that Bush's budget director was heavily involved in the decision to enter Iraq -- though Mr. Daniels did produce short-term cost estimates that helped reassure Congress, quite wrongly, that the war would be swift and affordable. The same cannot be said for the Medicare expansion, or the tax cuts.

Perhaps this wouldn't matter if Mr. Bush were revered by Republicans. Under his watch, deficits soared despite an economic expansion. We suffered the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, and the oceans of red ink that we face today are just one of its many aftereffects. …