“This growing divide between wealth and poverty . . . is both a challenge to our compassion and a source of instability.”
George W. Bush, March 22, 2002
One of Mr. Bush’s great skills is the ability to turn a small amount of money into a large amount of money with virtually no effort. Another is to give the impression that small amounts of money given for worthy projects are a much greater gift than they in fact are. The first skill was demonstrated long before he became governor of Texas.
Having failed in a number of business ventures Mr. Bush discovered one in which he was highly successful. He bought a 1.8 percent interest in the Texas Rangers Baseball team for $606,302. Prior to the time the team was sold, his co-owners gave him an additional 10 percent interest at no additional cost to him, presumably because they liked him and wanted to reward him for being who he already was. When the team was sold he received $14.9 million, proof that hard work is no substitute for having rich generous friends.
As president he has demonstrated that he can appear to be more generous than he actually is by making a big production of promising money for worthy causes that is less than it seems to be. He first demonstrated that skill when, on January 28, 2003, in his state of the union address he announced the Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, a five-year, $15 billion initiative to turn the tide in the global effort to combat the HIV/AIDS pandemic. It sounded like it was a lot of money and it was. Less than $10 billion was new money, however, as the president acknowledged. Five billion had already been promised. According to the White House Press Release following the speech:
“The President believes the global community can-and must-do more to halt the advance of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and that the United States should lead the world by example. Thus, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief will provide $15 billion (including almost $10 billion in new funds) over five years to turn the tide in the war on HIV/AIDs.”
What the spokesman did not say was that the president was slowing down payment of $1 billion he had earlier pledged for The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The president had pledged to provide $500 million for 2001 and $500 million for 2002. Under the January 28 plan the fund was to get $200 million a year for 5 years. What the spokesman also did not say, since he could not see into the future, was that when Mr. Bush submitted his budget for 2004 a few weeks after his speech he only asked for $900 million in new funding. In the 2005 budget he only asked for $1.2 billion in new funding and in the 2006 budget he only asked for $1.6 billion in new funding. These requests were made notwithstanding his January 28 promise to obtain new funding of $2 billion a year for 5 years. If he is to make good on the January 28 promise he will have to ask for and get from Congress $6.3 billion in the next two years. If history is a guide, he won’t ask for it.
On June 7th we again saw how Mr. Bush can use sleight of hand to make a little money seem more than it actually is. On that date Mr. Bush met with Tony Blair who had two things he wanted to discuss with Mr. Bush. One was Global Warming, something Mr. Bush does not understand and, not understanding, does not believe in. The other was funding for Africa.
Mr. Blair hoped to persuade Mr. Bush to provide more money for that beleaguered part of the world than the U.S. is now giving. (Although the United States contributes more aid to Africa than any other country, providing approximately one-quarter of the total amount of aid that is given, it gives only $.16 for every $100 of national income compared with the major European nations that presently give $.36 for each $100 of national income and have pledged to increase that to $.51 by 2010. Japan has pledged to double its contribution within three years.)
During the meeting Mr. Bush promised to release $674 million in aid. What he didn’t point out but the media did, was that it was money that had already been appropriated by Congress. Mr. Bush promised no new money at that meeting.
Commenting on Africa’s plight Mr. Blair said Africa’s poverty is: “the fundamental moral challenge of our time.” Mr. Blair hopes to develop a Marshall Plan for Africa. Mr. Bush won’t help out. According to the New York Time when asked about Mr. Blair’s proposal he responded: “It doesn’t fit our budgetary process.” Compassion often doesn’t.