Thursday, March 10, 2005

Putting Last Things First

Putting Last Things First
New York Times Editorial
Copyright 2005 
Published: March 10, 2005
This week, there was more evidence that the world has begun edging away from the dollar. International data showed that several more nations who have been big customers for American debt - including China and India - have diversified their portfolios away from the American greenback. To us, that sounds like a serious threat to the long-term soundness of the national currency. But the Bush administration hasn't come close to addressing any of the economic fundamentals that have helped spawn the dollar's decline (the budget deficit comes to mind). Instead, the White House has been busy lobbying for new tax cuts that will make the situation worse.
Meanwhile, in a world in which the United States desperately needs international cooperation on everything from curbing the trade in terrorist weaponry to presenting a united front to countries like Iran and Syria, President Bush is spending his political capital on getting John Bolton, a longtime critic of multilateralism, as representative to the United Nations.
We had hoped, when Mr. Bush was re-elected, that he'd rethink his goals once the next campaign was no longer an issue. There are so many critical problems facing the nation. But the president seems determined to ignore the biggest challenges and to home in on politically charged side issues. Medicare faces a perilous future, given growing health costs and the aging of the baby boomer population, and anything approaching a resolution would require hard bipartisan work. But the White House instead decided to make privatizing Social Security its chief priority. Social Security's long-term problems are relatively minor compared with Medicare's, and the fixes are pretty obvious.
The list goes on and on. When we look at problems that cry out for White House involvement, one that leaps out is our dependency on foreign oil. That not only leaves us hostage to some of the shakiest and most unappetizing oil-producing nations around the globe, but also threatens the entire economy over the long term, given that rising oil prices make the trade deficit even bigger and the dollar even weaker. Another huge economic threat, at least for some agricultural regions, is the growing international pressure to end our irrational subsidy program for crops like cotton. Both of these are tricky political issues that require steady and firm presidential intervention.
We haven't heard Mr. Bush make a big deal about either, except for his fixation with drilling in the Arctic wildlife preserve. Meanwhile in Congress, all the political capital is being directed toward putting an anti-environmental former lobbyist for mining interests on the federal bench, and passing a new law that will make it difficult for middle-class credit card users who suffer a life catastrophe - like sudden illness or divorce - to get back on their feet after they have to declare bankruptcy.
The priorities of this administration never cease to amaze.