Editor's note: Ed Rollins, a senior political contributor for CNN, is senior presidential fellow at the Kalikow Center for the Study of the American Presidency at Hofstra University. He is a principal with the Dilenschneider Group, a global public relations firm. He was White House political director for President Reagan and chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.
New York (CNN) -- It's become apparent that the president and his party want to run in November against George W. Bush and Denny Hastert and the alleged mess they left him. The problem with that strategy is the former president and former House speaker are long gone from the D.C. scene.
The Republicans want to run against Nancy Pelosi and the liberal Democrats running Congress and the mess they are making now. And who can blame them?
The speaker is front and center and she presents a great target. Especially when she makes idiotic comments like she did this week. Speaking in support of the unfunded unemployment benefit extension package passed by the Senate by one vote on Wednesday, she said, "It injects demand into the economy," arguing that when families have money to spend it keeps the economy churning. "It creates jobs faster than almost any other initiative you can name."
If she thinks unemployment benefits are what's going to make this economy rebound, her days are numbered as speaker. Why does giving someone unemployment benefits stimulate the economy (and I am not opposed to doing it; if offset elsewhere)?
The benefits have to be paid for, and it hardly helps the economy to take hard-earning wages from working people in the form of increased taxes. I have never understood why Democrats in Congress think they can spend your money more effectively from Washington than you can from where you live and work. The speaker also misstates the facts. In her own blog she writes:
"The Democratic-led Congress is changing the way Washington works to save taxpayers billions and restore responsibility. We have passed a fiscally responsible budget that slashes in half the $1.3 trillion Bush deficit, with key initiatives cutting waste and fraud and collecting unpaid taxes."
I don't know if the speaker herself wrote this blog, but it needs a major rewrite, because these are the facts: Her Congress hasn't even passed a budget resolution for the coming year, which it should have done months ago. All I see her doing is twisting arms to get her members to pass enormous spending bills.
When Pelosi became speaker in January 2007, the annual budget deficit was $160 billion. When she finishes her term in January, this year's deficit will be more than $1.5 trillion.
The trillion-dollar health care bill was drafted in her House. The $800 billion stimulus bill was drafted in her House by her committee chairmen. And who knows what we got this week with the passage of a 2,300-page-plus bill. The Frank-Dodd regulatory reform bill signed Wednesday adds hundreds of regulations, creates government agencies and will put the federal government in every financial transaction that you the consumer will be involved in. It doesn't offer any assurances that it will benefit the economy one iota, either. One thing you can bet on: It will cost you more to do ordinary business and won't encourage banks to loan money quicker.
No matter who the Congress tries to blame, they, not the president have total control of the budget process. It's the congressional budget that spends money and raises taxes to pay for it.
Having been around politics and government for four decades, the one thing I do know is there are no easy answers. If the problems were easily solved they would have been solved decades ago. But what I do know is that spending more of my 15-year-old daughter's future is not the responsible thing to do.
The federal government isn't alone in running up red ink.
Forty-six states are facing budget gaps that total $112 billion, according to a Bloomberg story quoting the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington research institution.
Many cities, both large and small, are also in financial despair. The northern California city where I grew up, Vallejo, was the first capital of the state in 1851. It unfortunately had to file for bankruptcy in May 2008.
The city had agreed to union demands after a police strike to make Vallejo's police and firefighters among the highest paid in the state. Foolishly, the city council had surrendered in labor negotiations and given compensation packages for police captains that topped $300,000 a year and averaged $171,000 a year for firefighters. According to the Wall Street Journal, regular public employees in the city could retire at age 55 with 81 percent of their final year's pay in pensions. Police and fire officials could retire at age 50 with a pension that pays them 90 percent of their final year's salary as long as they live -- and for the rest of their spouses' lives.
The end result was that the salaries and benefits for public safety workers accounted for nearly three-fourths of Vallejo's general fund budget. The city, unable to alter the contracts, was forced to slash everything else and eventually to go bankrupt.
This followed the takeover by the state of California of the Vallejo unified school district in 2004 for insolvency. The local school board is now making the tough decisions, closing schools and laying off teachers. This saddens me because this was a great city with wonderful hard-working people. Ironically, the neighboring member of Congress, in nearby San Francisco, is Nancy Pelosi.
Vallejo's bankruptcy documents quote an article that has become its governing mantra as it struggles to recover.
It's a set of tips from Governing Magazine:
"Live within your means.
Look to your future.
Stop deferring expenses.
Fund your retirement obligations.
Dedicate your surplus.
Set up a rainy day fund."
That's pretty good counsel for all our elected officials. Pretty good counsel for all of us.
But whichever side wins in November, the task ahead is difficult. The choices are tough choices. To the American taxpayers, for the first time since Ross Perot in 1992, deficits do matter!
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ed Rollins.