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Congress is getting ready to screw up again. Maybe George W. Bush can use
his influence to save it from itself.

As Congress has just returned from its summer recess, pundits are trying to
predict whether the current bottleneck in its agenda will lead to another
government shutdown.

The dismal fact pointing in that direction is that 11 of its 13 spending
bills are incomplete with the Oct. 1 deadline ominously looming. Relentless
pressure from Democrats and centrist Republicans for increased spending may
lead to temporary appropriations to avert the shutdown.

The ultimate outcome could be an omnibus budget bill that exceeds spending
caps by more than $30 billion.

Isn’t it just amazing? Both parties claim credit for the historical
accomplishment of balancing the budget. Yet, they are about to circumvent
the spending caps — the disciplinary device responsible for this crowning
fiscal achievement (apart from growth).

What other word but “incorrigible” could sufficiently describe these
recidivist spendthrifts? Amnesiacs, perhaps?

The rationalizations are already beginning to surface. “The caps are
unrealistic” say the gutless spendaholics.

What is this irrepressible urge they have to spend our money?

To add insult to injury, Congress, according to the Wall Street Journal, is
on track to spend billions of dollars in the Social Security trust fund
surplus on non-Social Security programs next year. But this doesn’t keep
them from promising to keep this money off limits.

At least Senate Majority Leader Lott sent a letter to Clinton saying he
would schedule a vote soon to establish a Social Security lockbox, where SS
surpluses can only be used for Social Security.

But with Congress’ beyond-budget commitments, the projected non-Social-Security budget surplus is projected instead to be a deficit of nearly $20
billion.

That would mean that to balance the budget without using SS funds, Congress
would have to make cuts in other programs. But how in the world are they
going to make any cuts when they are devoting most of their energy devising
novel ways to spend the money? For example, the White House is expected to
ask Congress for another $3 billion this week in emergency funding for
peacekeeping activities in Kosovo.

Clinton, having won every PR battle he ever engaged in with the Republican
Congress, is probably hankering for another shutdown. He’ll use opposition
to “risky” tax cuts as his prop. Then he can better position his chosen
successor Al Gore for class warfare assaults on the GOP and its nominee as
the presidential and congressional campaigns unfold.

And Clinton will again use “the children,” via the education issue, as his
PR prop to outmaneuver Republicans with this veto of their $792 billion tax
cut bill. In anticipating the GOP argument that education is a local
responsibility, Clinton said that our dilapidated and crumbling schools are
a national disgrace.

This is exactly the point where Governor Bush should take his cue. Clinton
is about to serve him up two issues he purports to care about deeply, namely
tax cuts and education. And with Congress, especially the liberal and
centrist Republicans, about to fold on the spending caps, Dubya could work
toward killing multiple birds with one volley of stones.

What a great scenario! There is a vacuum of leadership in both parties
concerning the budget issue. The tax cut and education issues are pivotal to
the mix.

Bush should seize this unique moment and assume de facto leadership of the
GOP, indeed of Congress itself, by using his campaign bully-pulpit to: urge
Congress not to break the spending caps; stick to their guns following
Clinton’s veto of their tax cut bill; and make the case that education is
not, as Clinton says, a federal matter.

He would thereby demonstrate his leadership mettle and prove himself to be a
real conservative where it matters to the most people, fiscally. He can
prove his social conservatism as he moves forward.

Bush, as the leader in waiting, can parlay his voluminous congressional
endorsements to steer the GOP majority into principled conservative action.
That would place them in a better position to retain their majority both on
and independent from his coattails, if he becomes the nominee.

So many are accusing Bush of being anointed he might as well accept
responsibility and begin “governing” from his podium. That would convince
the grass roots that he’s for real and the nation that he’s ready to lead.

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