The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that the GOP-led Congress is counting on a midyear jump in federal budget surplus projections for the next decade (exclusive of Social Security revenues) “to free them from their commitment to spending caps.” Pressure will mount as the surplus increases.
Many Republicans are already reneging on their term-limits pledges. Their willingness to honor the spending caps will be a major test to determine whether they have the political courage to resist Democratic demagoguery and begin to restore their image as the party of less government.
Though Democrats have been the party of tax and spend for years, they deftly shifted the blame for enormous deficits on Reagan Republicans following the ’80s.
Admittedly, the federal debt soared during the Reagan years, but Democrats have little credibility blaming Republicans for failing to put the brakes on their own congressional spending.
Democrats controlled both houses of Congress for more than 30 years prior to 1994, with the exception of a few years during Reagan’s tenure, when Republicans briefly enjoyed a majority in the Senate.
Democrats have conveniently sidestepped the excess spending issue by characterizing the Reagan years as “the decade of greed.” With Clinton leading the charge, they tell us that the massive deficits were a result of Reaganomics — a code word for tax-cuts that allegedly benefited the wealthy at the expense of the middle class. The unspoken implication has always been that by commandeering massive tax cuts through Congress, Reagan and his evil Republican colleagues starved the federal coffers and the truly needy in this country.
That is patently false. Reagan’s marginal tax cuts did not result in a reduction in income tax revenues. As Reagan predicted, the tax cuts resulted in increased productivity and revenue. Besides, domestic spending on welfare and other social programs actually increased during the Reagan years. The tax cuts were not responsible for the exponential acceleration of the federal deficits and cumulative national debt. Runaway spending was the culprit.
In Reagan’s defense, he initiated a massive defense-rebuilding program following the Carter years with his policy of peace-through-strength. It succeeded in bringing the Soviets to their knees, and it ended the Cold War.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to detect the inconsistencies in the Democrats’ current fiscal policies. Due to Republican shortcomings in both leadership and communication, however, Clinton enjoys the luxury of having it both ways. With one hand he excoriates Republicans for their austere programs to reduce spending (the Contract With America), and with the other takes credit for the erosion of the deficits.
Had Clinton gotten his way, the Republican Congress would never have enacted spending caps and he would have increased spending in ways we can only imagine. For starters, at the beginning of his first term, he would have signed into law his multibillion dollar economic stimulus package, which the Republicans were able to block as a wasteful, thinly disguised pork-barrel measure to repay big-city mayors for helping him get elected.
In Clinton’s perfect world, the welfare reform bill that he signed on the third submission after having twice vetoed it would never have received presidential ink.
The only real spending cuts Clinton has happily made are those involving our national defense. Up until now, he has been able to actualize his loathing of the military by gutting military budgets across the board. It is just like a liberal to implement a monumental downsizing of government in one of the very few areas constitutionally mandated as a prerogative and imperative of the federal government.
Less than one third of the roughly $1.7 trillion federal budget involves discretionary spending. The lion’s share of the budget consists of entitlement programs and interest on the national debt. Yet Clinton has refused to cooperate with Republicans in real Social Security or Medicare reform. No matter how fiscally responsible Congress becomes with the discretionary portion of the budget, entitlement reform is necessary to avoid fiscal catastrophe for future generations.
This year’s budget debates will provide Republicans an opportunity to demonstrate that they can make a difference by stubbornly adhering to their pledge to keep spending within their self-imposed spending caps. The Democrats’ name-calling will be merciless: “heartless, cruel, mean-spirited, hateful, compassionless.”
It will be up to Republicans to convince the people that their policies of curbing wasteful discretionary spending and major entitlement reform are where true compassion resides. Compassionate people don’t bankrupt their grandchildren.
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