Principle over Politics? The Domestic Policy of the George H. W. Bush Presidency

By Richard Himelfarb; Rosanna Perotti | Go to book overview

Moderator: Neil D. Levin

My name is Neil Levin. I am the moderator for today’s panel, the topic of which is budgets and deficits during the Bush presidency. Let me also commend Hofstra University—I attended law school here and, in fact, even graduated—for conducting its Tenth Presidential Conference. They’re clearly taking a leadership role here in national scholarship with regard to reviewing the presidency, and again should be commended for that.

Currently, I’m the acting superintendent of insurance in New York State. Assuming the state Senate ever reconvenes in two weeks, I would expect to be confirmed, although I take nothing for granted. I’ve spent the last two years as the superintendent of banks in New York State, and my prior governmental experience was from ‘81 to ‘85 down in Washington as the securities council and the Senate Banking Committee. So I had exposure to some of the issues we’re going to be talking about today.

We’ve got a lot of different perspectives here from the panelists. I guess the first thing we need to think about is the context of the Bush presidency as we listen to everybody here: What economic hand was President Bush dealt? And we’re going to have some discussion today regarding structural deficits that he inherited, as well as a slowing economy.

Next, I would say another consideration is, what political hand was President Bush dealt? We see that he had a Democratic Congress, so we saw a divided government—again, not exactly something we hadn’t seen before, but again, clearly, that will play a critical role in terms of the 1990 budget negotiations. Also, the president’s “no new tax” pledge; we also saw a president who had substantial personal approval ratings following the action in the Gulf; and finally, we saw a lack of willingness by Congress—not exactly a new thing—to tackle the deficit issue. So those are the political elements to deal with.

I think, finally, the other thing we hope to come out of this with today is, how did President Bush handle it? Did he take the appropriate action with the 1990 budget deal? Did he provide leadership for the long-term good of the country? Was he perhaps a victim of good judgment but bad political management or spin control? So hopefully we can get through those issues today.

There was one thing I thought would be helpful to bring along. It was timely that the New Yorker this week shows Satan over here going down to the depths of hell, and we see the top level, we see the banner here, “Politicians Who Propose to Cut Taxes.” They’re at the very top of the pyramid here; they have the least amount of heat. The next level down, where we see serpents and a little more fire, is “Politicians Who Promise to Balance the Budget.” And finally, where you see most of the politicians writhing in intense pain, great fire, serpents, everything, “Politicians Who Promise to Cut Taxes and Balance the Budget.” So I thought this was actually a good way to provide a backdrop for today’s session.

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