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Opposite Day in Washington

Have U.S. politicians decided to declare an official “opposite day”?

July 1, 2002

Have U.S. politicians decided to declare an official "opposite day"?

After a decade living inside the beltway, I left Washington, D.C., some twelve years ago for the greener pastures of New York City. Since then, I have felt the need to return annually to the Mecca of American politics for spiritual enlightening and to meet with the country's key decision makers.

Never before in all the years of going on these excursions was I reminded so often of my 8-year old son. To be precise, this year I was reminded of a concept that he calls "opposite day." This refers to a day when one says the opposite of what one means and does things one normally wouldn't.

"Opposite day" seems to have caught on in Washington, where Democrats have turned into fiscal conservatives — and Republicans don't worry about deficits.

In this new world, Democrats defend free trade, while the Bush administration slaps 30% tariffs on steel and supports a $180 billion farm bill, heavily subsidizing inefficient U.S. farmers.

In 2001, administration economists predicted indefinite budget surpluses even after the Bush tax cut.

Now, the same economists admit that the revenue spikes of the late 1990s were probably an aberration.

They quite logically conclude that hasty revenue extrapolations, the tax cut and slower baseline growth are likely to create structural deficits — although they resist the term structural.

What happened to the party of the Balanced Budget Amendment? Well, that party won the presidency in November of 2000. Some Republicans even look to future fiscal imbalances as a means to fundamentally restructure the nation's discretionary spending.

Most Democrats detest the reversal of the nation's fiscal fortune, but they are ill-at-ease after 9/11. They struggle to marry constructive criticism of the President with the nation's longing for unity and bipartisanship.

The Bush administration has also turned its back on the pro-trade Republican mainstream, whose views were reflected in the policies of President Clinton, a New Democrat.

This about-face returned U.S. trade policy to the ages of closed current accounts and towards the abyss of a trade-war. New steel tariffs — to expire just after the next presidential election — probably violate World Trade Organization rules.

Furthermore, the farm bill is another nail in the coffin of the world's poorest countries, who are formidable competitors to some of our farmers.

Yet, administration officials deflect from these highly controversial measures and focus observers on the need for fast-track authority and for a Latin American Free Trade Agreement.

This strategy reminds me of the Spanish saying: "Entre dicho y hecho hay mucho trecho." Loosely translated this means: 'there is a big gap between what's been said and what's been done'.

In these days of bilingual campaigns, the future opponent to President Bush may wish to use this expression as his/her 2004 campaign slogan.