- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 4, 2009

Colin Powell, one of President Obama’s most prominent Republican supporters, expressed concern publicly for the first time Friday that the president’s ambitious blitz of costly initiatives may be enlarging the size of government and the federal debt too much.

“I’m concerned at the number of programs that are being presented, the bills associated with these programs and the additional government that will be needed to execute them,” Mr. Powell said in an interview with CNN’s John King. It was released by the network Friday.

Mr. Powell, a retired U.S. Army general who rose to political prominence after a long and accomplished military career, said that health care reform and many of Mr. Obama’s other initiatives are “important” to Americans.

But, he said, “one of the cautions that has to be given to the president - and I’ve talked to some of his people about this - is that you can’t have so many things on the table that you can’t absorb it all.”

“And we can’t pay for it all,” said Mr. Powell, who was the first black man to serve as secretary of state, under President George W. Bush. He was also national security adviser to President Reagan and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President George H.W. Bush from 1989 to 1993.

Mr. Powell, who has long earned top rankings in public opinion polls, was considered a possible Republican presidential candidate as early as 1996. In 2007, he donated the maximum amount allowed to Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican who won the GOP nomination.

But less than a month before last fall’s general election, Mr. Powell endorsed Mr. Obama over Mr. McCain, providing a major boost to the Democrat’s campaign.

Mr. Powell’s latest comments reflect a growing concern, which began with hard-line fiscal conservatives but is now spreading to moderates, about the rate of government spending and debt under Mr. Obama and the long-term impact on the country’s fiscal sustainability and national security.

The national debt stands currently at $11.5 trillion, and the deficit for the current fiscal year is projected to be close to $2 trillion.

Mr. Powell expressed alarm at “budgets that are running into the multitrillions of dollars” and “a huge, huge national debt that, if we don’t pay for in our lifetime, our kids and grandkids and great-grandchildren will have to pay for.”

Mr. Obama, Mr. Powell added, “has to start really taking a very, very hard look at what the cost of all this is. And how much additional bureaucracy [will] be needed to make all of this happen?”

Mr. Powell said he has been in touch with Mr. Obama regularly and recently.

“I don’t insert myself, but we stay in touch,” he said.

Mr. King prompted Mr. Powell’s comments by showing him footage of the former general’s comments at the 1996 Republican Convention in San Diego, where Mr. Powell talked about his opposition to big government.

“The federal government has become too large and too intrusive in our lives,” Mr. Powell said then. “We can no longer afford solutions to our problems that result in more entitlements, higher taxes to pay for them, more bureaucracy to run them and fewer results to show for it.”

Mr. Powell said that he still believes what he said then, but that he would put it in different terms now.

“I don’t like slogans anymore like ‘limited government.’ That’s not the right answer. The right answer is: Give me a government that works,” he said. “Keep it as small as possible. Keep the tax burden on the American people as small as possible. But at the same time, have government that is solving the problems of the people.”

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