The record Mitch Daniels doesn’t want to talk about

THE RECORD MITCH DANIELS DOESN’T WANT TO TALK ABOUT…. A couple of days ago, David Brooks praised Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) for his record of fiscal responsibility. That record, in Brooks’ vision, starts in 2004 when Daniels was elected to statewide office.

But there’s also that inconvenient period in which Daniels was Bush’s budget director, and the U.S. government began the most fiscally irresponsible period in American history. Amanda Terkel reports this morning:

On “Fox News Sunday,” host Chris Wallace pressed Daniels on this point. “When you came in, this country had an annual surplus for the first time in 30 years of $236 billion. When you left, two and a half years later, the deficit was $400 billion. You were also there when President Bush launched his Medicaid drug benefit plan that now cost $60 billion a year. I know there was a recession, but do you think it was wise — at a time when we were fighting two wars — to have two tax cuts and launch a huge new entitlement?”

Daniels said deficits during that time were inevitable. “It was a recession, two wars and a terrorist attack that led to a whole new category called homeland security,” he said. “So nobody was less happy than I to see the surplus go away, but it was going away.”

This fails on a whole lot of levels. It’s true that Daniels, as Bush’s budget director, was helping shape the books during an economic downturn, but I seem to recall Republicans concluding that these details are irrelevant — Obama inherited the worst economy since the Great Depression, but as far as the GOP is concerned, that’s not a good excuse for large deficits.

For that matter, Daniels is correct that his tenure also included 9/11 and the launch of two wars, but every president in American history raised taxes to help pay for previous U.S. wars, to prevent deficits from spiraling out of control. Bush, with Daniels’ blessing, approved two massive tax cuts that ultimately added $5 trillion to the debt in just eight years.

It’s that same debt that Daniels believes will destroy the country. Funny, he didn’t think that way when he was directly responsible for making the problem worse.

Daniels went on to tell Fox News this morning that we shouldn’t even count his record from this era: “[I]f you want to know what I think about fiscal issues, don’t look at 2 1/2 years when I was in the supporting cast with no vote. Look at six years where I was in a responsible position, submitting budgets and fighting for them.”

In other words, when evaluating Daniels for federal office, just pay no attention to his only federal experience.

That’s not going to work. Daniels backed tax packages that didn’t work and were a disaster for the budget; he backed putting the costs of wars onto the national charge card in a way no previous administration ever had; and he backed expanding the federal role in health care without paying for it.

What’s more, when Daniels has tried to brush all of this aside, he’s used “stunningly fraudulent” excuses.

I realize Daniels has somehow become the “thinking man’s” preferred GOP presidential candidate, but I’m afraid this crowd is backing the wrong horse.