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Over the years Pat Buchanan has changed his positions and attitudes
to the point that he has become a thoroughgoing economic protectionist
– a position I view as intellectually untenable and pragmatically
unwise for any country that isn’t already an economic and cultural
backwater with no aspirations to be anything else. But as much as I
might disagree with Pat on these rather important issues, it is
difficult not to admire him as a gifted writer and polemicist who spices
up the political process.

It is even more difficult not to sympathize with his impatience with
Republicans, especially those who infest Congress. This gang that can’t
shoot straight has almost entirely abdicated any claim it might once
have had to being the party of limited government or any other
principle. And they’re inept to boot.

Remember earlier this year, when all the spokespeople were assuring
us that with consensus-builder Dennis Hastert as speaker at least the
budget trains would run on time? The Republicans had supposedly learned
the lesson that when you delay the budget process until the last minute
the White House gains an inordinate negotiating advantage. The
Clintonistas can demand budget concessions (almost always increases),
threaten to close down the government if you don’t concede, then bask in
the assurance that you — congressional Republicans — will take the
blame. So you fold. Wasn’t going to happen this year, we were told.

Well, it has happened. The budget is due Oct. 1 and it isn’t close to
being finished yet. I don’t know to what extent it’s Dennis Hastert’s
fault, but the Republican Congress is in the same position it has been
in for the past several years — late with the budget and about to be
savaged by Clinton. So they’ve decided to make all their concessions in
advance. They started last July by fudging the budget caps they had
passed in 1997.

That didn’t boost spending enough to make them certain Clinton
wouldn’t blackmail them again. So, as the Wall Street Journal reported
last week, they decided to increase spending on a wide range of programs
in advance — before passing bills and sending them to the president –
and perform various dishonest accounting tricks to do it.

Perhaps you should give them a certain amount of credit. At least
they’ve figured out that Clinton will always snooker them. That’s said
to be the reason they decided to pass their pitiably modest tax-cut bill
and just let Clinton veto it, rather than doing it earlier and
negotiating with the administration afterward on an insulting
“targeted” tax cut.

Finally figuring out that you can’t beat the Slickster when most of
the media will predictably savage you is hardly a gargantuan
accomplishment.

What speaks even more poorly of congressional Republicans is to take
a look — as Steve Moore at the Cato Institute did recently — at the
brave promises GOP leaders made when they achieved a congressional
majority in 1994. Remember? They were going to take a serious shot at
abolishing entire departments, beginning with Commerce, Education and
Energy, along with a wide range of useless tax-devouring agencies,
boards, commissions, authorities and programs.

You can make a case that they were stung more seriously than anybody
had anticipated during the government-closing debacle and their majority
has dwindled. But you might at least hope that even if outright
abolition is no longer a live option, at least they would have been
steadily reducing the budgets of these departments and agencies that
actually deserved abolition.

Think again.

The Department of Commerce budget has increased by 40 percent between
1995 and 1999. The biggest jump has been recent — an 18 percent
increase from 1998 to 1999. The growth of the Department of Education
has been more modest. Its budget has increased “only” 10 percent in the
last four years — but 9 percent in the last year alone. The Department
of Energy’s budget has actually decreased 12 percent from 1995 to 1999
as some functions have been offloaded to other departments. But fans of
big spending have nothing to fear. It increased 8 percent from 1998 to
1999 and is likely to increase more in coming years.

In other words, when it comes to spending, there doesn’t seem to be a
dime’s worth of difference between Republicans and Democrats. Cato also
looked at 70 different agencies, boards and commissions that had been on
the “hit list” of brave Republican Revolutionaries in 1994. Not
surprisingly, none — that’s a big, fat zero — have been eliminated. A
few agencies have experienced budget reductions in the last four years.
The Appalachian Regional Commission’s budget declined 20 percent, the
Legal Services Corp.’s budget got cut, as did those of the National
Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities. But cumulatively, the
overall budgets of the agencies and programs on the 1994 “hit list”
have increased 3 percent over the last four years. That might be a bit
less than the overall increases in federal spending, but it’s not
exactly hitting the bureaucrats upside the head with a two-by-four.

And if some programs got budget cuts, some got increases — including
some that might surprise you. The Goals 2000 program in the Department
of Education that has been so controversial? Up 119 percent over the
last four years. How about the School-to-Work program some education
reformers have criticized? How about a 513 percent budget boost over
four years? The Safe and Drug Free Schools boondoggle got a 260 percent
boost over four years — all of it coming in the last year. Something
called the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program in the
Department of Education got a 19,900 — that’s almost 20 thousand –
percent increase.

So when it comes to big spending and budget legerdemain, the
Republicans seem bent on proving that with a majority they can be just
as irresponsible, just as reluctant to take on programs with even a tiny
sliver of a constituency, as the Democrats ever were. And they wonder
why that majority margin keeps getting smaller.

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