My whopper is only this big

President Bush describes the magnitude of his ex-aggerations with a simple visual demonstration.

Or, maybe he was describing the source of his blustering ego, a sure sign of raging insecurity.

In any case, the President told us a few things that weren’t true today. First, let’s examine his defense of the Bush record on Pell Grants.

See what the President had to say: More Pell Grants?

Ironically, it was Senator Edward Kennedy (the conservative Democratic senator from Massachussetts) who clawed back funding for the Pell Grants when President Bush was pushing through his massive tax cuts in 2003. Here’s the story and here’s the key passage that explains Bush did not actually expand the program:

The Federal Pell grant, unlike a loan, does not have to be repaid. The grant is usually awarded to undergraduate students who have yet to complete their bachelor’s or professional degree. President George W. Bush’s proposed budget for 2004 increased funding for the Pell grant in order to take care of a bookkeeping shortfall, but it did not increase actual grants awarded to students.

The Kennedy amendment will increase the individual student Pell grants for the first time in three years. In 1999-00, about 30 percent of nearly 16.5 million undergraduates enrolled full-time for the full year at one institution received a federal Pell grant, averaging $2,314 according to the National Center for Education Statistics. The Kennedy amendment will allow 200,000 more students to receive a Pell grant.

The bookkeeping shortfall was created by the Pell Grant program’s existing provisions, which resulted in an increased pool of eligible students because of the economic downturn. So, most of the “million more students” who got Pell Grants did so because the law required the Bush Administration to do it, not because President Bush decided to expand the program. In fact, President Bush has held the maximum Pell Grant level at the 2000 level every year since he took office even as the cost of a year’s tuition at a four-year private college rose six percent in just the last year and public university tuition rose 14.1 percent. The share of educational costs covered by the government has been shrinking, not rising.

If you look over the maximum and average amounts granted under the Pell program, you can see that the only periods of increase since the first President Bush took office were in the Clinton era.

This is no education president.

Then, there’s Mr. Bush’s biggest lie of the night, the statement that most of the tax cuts have gone to the middle class If you didn’t take a look at the video clip, here is what President Bush said: “Most of the tax cuts went to low and middle income Americans.”

Not according to United for a Fair Economy:

Half of all Americans will receive less than $100 from the tax cut in 2003, according to Citizens for Tax Justice. But Americans making $1 million or more will receive $93,500 from the tax cut, according the Tax Policy Center.

Over the next four years, the bottom 60 percent of taxpayers will receive just 9 percent of all the tax cuts, while just the top one percent receives 39 percent of the tax cuts. The tax cut benefits flowing to the top 1% far outpace the 23% share of federal taxes they now pay.

The distribution of tax cuts do not get better with age. The tax cuts targeted at middle- and low-income families sunset, or disappear, after 2004. As a result, in 2006, 52 percent of the Bush tax cut goes to the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans.

Or consider these figures from the Brookings Institution Tax Policy Center, which shows the top 20 percent of Americans by income pay 68.6 percent of federal taxes, not the 80 percent President Bush said during the debate.

Let’s take a look at that ex-aggeration for a moment, because it tells us a lot about President Bush’s view of the world. He was off by about 11.4 percent of the share of federal taxes paid by the richest 20 percent. In 2004, when federal receipts are estimated to be about $1.79 trillion, that misstatement translates into a $204.9 billion gap between reality and President Bush’s understanding of federal revenues—enough to pay for a war in Iraq, among other things.

Meanwhile, tax revenues have fallen to only 16.3 percent of the GDP of the United States, “the smallest share at any time in the past 40 years.”

Rich Americans just aren’t carrying that large a burden these days, so the President’s imprecations to accept that ordinary Americans have to make sacrifices rings hollow.

Any way you cut it, most of the tax cuts, in dollars and as a percentage of the total reduction in taxes, went to the wealthiest Americans. It simply isn’t honest to say that the tax cuts were stimulating to the economy because they put more money in lower and middle class pocket—the Bush tax cuts were designed to trickle down to the rest of us from the very pinnacle of American capital.

If the President were to describe his tax cuts this way, honestly, and said “hey, it’s just going to take more time for the rest of you to see the results,” then he would be talking honestly with the American people and they could decide if they will accept this kind of fiscal policy making. My bet is they would show President Bush the door before the election, but the President lies to us about his tax cuts.

Finally, let’s go back to the argument about Pell Grants. The President makes the case that he is investing in America’s future, but he has not done so in any sense of the word “investment” that most folks understand. Taxes can be a more efficient way to gather the resources for education than having families try to do it on shrinking incomes—any middle class family knows this. President Bush doesn’t want to share the burden of educating our children, wrapping his policies in arguments about choice while simultaneously reducing the resources—personal and as a share of government expenditure—available to the families that depend on public education. An investor understands that an efficient system for turning out smart working people is a path to future prosperity and invests accordingly.

President Bush only talks about education as a prop, because he’s interested in protecting fortunes that exist today. But real capitalism is built on the uncertainty of fortunes, they can be lost if they are not shepherded carefully. America’s future fortunes will come in large part from today’s privileged families. President Bush is trying to preserve those fortunes at the expense of the rest of us.

Author: Mitch Ratcliffe

Mitch Ratcliffe is a veteran entrepreneur, journalist and business model hacker. He operates this site, which is a collection of the blogs he's published over the years, as well as an archive of his professional publishing record. As always, this is a work in progress. Such is life.

2 thoughts on “My whopper is only this big”

  1. Pell Grants: Another Bush “Mislead”

    In last night’s debate John Kerry said that Bush’s administration had cut the Pell Grants for education, and Bush said “We’ve increased Pell grants by a million students. That’s a fact!” Mitch Ratcliffe notes that “most of the “million more…

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