Colin Powell, one of President Obama’s most prominent Republican supporters, expressed concern 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 excerpt of an interview with CNN’s John King, released by the network Friday morning.
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 African-American to serve as secretary of state, under former President George W. Bush. He was also national security adviser to President Reagan, and was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President George H.W. Bush from 1989 to 1993.
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Mr. Powell was considered a possible Republican presidential candidate as early as 1996, and in 2007 he donated the maximum amount allowed to Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican who won the GOP primary. But less than a month before last fall’s general election, Mr. Powell endorsed Mr. Obama over Mr. McCain.
Mr. Powell’s comments represent the growing concern that began with hard-line fiscal conservatives but is now spreading to moderates about the rate of government spending and debt under President 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 multi-trillions 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 it.”
“So, I think the president, as he moves forward with his initiatives, 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.
Mr. Powell said he has been in touch with Mr. Obama regularly, including recently.
“I don’t insert myself. But, we stay in touch,” he said.
Mr. King prompted Mr. Powell’s comments by showing him video archive footage of Mr. Powell’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 now 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.”
The full interview will air on CNN’s “State of the Union with John King” on Sunday, July 5.
• Jon Ward can be reached at email@example.com.
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