Today, Jeb Bush is going to start laying out what he stands for in terms of policy. He, more than any of the other Republican candidates, walks a delicate balance. He is anchored by his last name and his brother’s legacy. If he tilts too far one way, there is no maneuvering he can do to distance himself from claims that he is the second coming of his brother’s Administration. He’s already received criticism for hiring too many people connected to his brother.
If Jeb Bush tilts the other way, he risks headlines that declare him throwing his brother under the bus and repudiating his brother’s legacy. Those stories have a way of getting away from you.
Today, Jeb Bush intends to take the Jeb path — saying what he intends to do based on what he did in Florida. It is a softer way of saying he is not his brother. The political press is now filled with stories that George W. Bush viewed conservatism as whatever he declared it to be. In eight years, domestic spending kept increasing and if anyone complained they were labeled anti-war. In fact, the historic record now reflects that the war spending itself was not nearly as outrageous as the runaway domestic spending. Bush, with a Republican Congress, let the Republicans get away with anything domestically so long as the war was funded.
Today, Jeb Bush intends to signal that he is not a big spending Republican and has the record to prove it. In a preview of his speech I was given, he says this:
The ultimate disruption of Washington is to reject, as I do, the whole idea of a government forever growing more, borrowing more, and spending more – beyond anyone’s ability to control or even comprehend. And I have no illusions about what reform really takes. The next president has got to confront the spending culture of Washington – and I will do it.
I think we’ve learned by now that you can have a fast-expanding economy, or you can have a fast-expanding government, but you cannot have both. You have to choose, as I did when I was governor of the fourth-largest state.
In my time in office, Florida’s economy expanded by average of 4.4 percent per year – twice as fast as the national average. We balanced eight budgets in a row and increased our state’s reserves by $8 billion. We were upgraded to a AAA bond rating, rather than the sorry downgrade our federal government received during the Obama years.
I vetoed more than 2,500 spending items, producing $2 billion in savings, and I’m glad somebody was keeping count. Legislators started calling me Veto Corleone – and, as you might guess, I told them it was only business.
He will also point out that he reduced the size of the Florida bureaucracy and is not afraid to fire bureaucrats. He’ll also throw out two of the perpetually shiny objects Republicans always call for — a balanced budget amendment and a line item veto. He is going to name check [mc_name name=’Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’R000570′ ] and his line item veto proposal. Reassuringly, he is going to call for a balanced budget amendment structured in such a way that that it cannot be used as a vehicle to raise taxes.
The proposals sound great. The problem is that every Republican calls for them and no Republican ever gets them passed Congress. How Jeb Bush can get it done remains to be seen. And after eight years of Barack Obama’s political antics, one must wonder if Congress wants a President with a line item veto and a vendetta.
Bush is going to have to focus more on his record in Florida than on constitutional amendment. Truth be told, he was a more fiscally conservative governor than his brother. He did cut bureaucracy and spending and he vetoed a heck of a lot of stuff. Florida, of course, has a balanced budget amendment, so his budget did have to balance. But, Bush’s stewardship did see a credit ratings increase.
He still has a difficult path to walk. But Jeb Bush is trying. The message he delivers today, which is just the beginning, puts him on solid policy footing at a time some of the other two hundred some odd Republican candidates are still trying to find their voice. More importantly, Bush’s voice and message is decided against Washington and more in favor of leaving people alone.