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Goodbye tax cuts; hello spending

Posted By Jane Chastain On 09/13/1999 @ 1:00 am In Commentary | Comments Disabled

Say goodbye to the 1 percent across-the-board tax cut. Goodbye to
the elimination of the marriage penalty. Goodbye to the end of estate
taxes and the alternate minimum. Goodbye to the reduction in capital
gains taxes. Goodbye to the expanded pension and 401K. The Republican
leaders of Congress say that when Mr. Clinton vetoes the tax bill they
put on his desk Tuesday, they will not negotiate another one that will
result in some throw-away tax fixes in return for a massive hike in
spending for all his pet projects.

In the GOP’s weekly radio address, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott
said, “It would be impolite to call that blackmail, but we’ve been
through this routine before.” Indeed they have.

Instead of crying over the tax cut, Lott, R-Miss., and his Republican
colleagues say they will focus on passing routine spending bills and
locking in future budget surpluses to protect Social Security and begin
paying down the $5.6 trillion accumulated national debt. That’s a tall
order for House and Senate leaders who, at this point, will have to pull
off a few miracles just to come in under the budget caps they agreed to
in the 1997 budget deal they signed with Mr. Clinton.

In their race to get through the 13 bills that make up the federal
budget, Republicans have been spending like there is no tomorrow.
However, tomorrow will arrive soon in the House of Representatives in
the form of the Labor, Health and Human Services bill, which is the last
appropriations bill left on the schedule for the FY-2000 budget.

In order to abide by the terms of the Balanced Budget Act of 1997,
Congress was required to trim $10 billion from discretionary spending.
Then another $16 billion was added to beef up defense, which means
another $16 billion in cuts have to made somewhere else. With all the
talk about the hard choices and spending restraints, what do Republican
leaders have to show for eight months of work? They are roughly $20
billion in the hole.

To make matters worse, they have added billions more in emergency
spending, which is just a fancy way of getting around the budget. They
just put the emergency spending aside and pretend it doesn’t exist, but
that money doesn’t come out of thin air. This emergency spending alone
is expected to gobble up the $14 billion projected non-Social Security
surplus in FY-2000.

Yes, Republicans are headed for another train wreck over the budget
that was orchestrated by their leaders. At the beginning of this
process leadership decided to pass the easy, non-controversial bills
first and save the most difficult for last. But a funny thing happened
on the way to that Labor, HHS bill. They just kept spending and
spending and spending. Three bills into the process, Dr. Tom Colburn,
R-Okla., took out his scalpel and went to work on the Agriculture bill
and for his efforts he was treated like a skunk at a garden party.

To be fair, the problems didn’t begin with House Speaker Denny
Hastert and Mr. Lott. They began with their predecessors, Newt Gingrich
and Bob Dole. When Republicans were handed the keys to the
congressional leadership offices in the election of 1994, these men left
the party’s biggest spenders on the appropriations committees, and the
chairmen of those committees chose to retain the majority of the
Democratic staffers who were highly skilled in spending our money.
There was no attempt to change the system that had been in place during
40 years of Democratic rule, which had made the federal government
America’s # 1 growth industry.

However, Hastert and Lott are in charge now and, instead of breaking
the knees of the big spenders within their party, they have broken the
spirit of Dr. Colburn, Mark Sanford, R-S.C., and a few others who tried
to head off this train wreck.

Earlier this year, there was one glimmer of hope when Rep. Jim Nussle
(R- Iowa) presented the Comprehensive Budget Process Reform Act (H.R.
853) for consideration, which he wrote with Rep. Ben Cardin, D-Md. This
bill is the result of hearings they conducted on the federal budget
process as leaders of a task force put together by House Budget
Committee Chairman John Kasich, R-Ohio. The Comprehensive Budget
Process reform Act would be a big improvement over the current
unworkable process. Nussle, Cardin and Kasich were promised a vote, but
at the 11th hour, when the Office of Management and Budget and the
Congressional Budget Office projected that the surplus would be larger
than previously anticipated, House leaders couldn’t seem to find a place
for it on the schedule. They were all too busy trying to figure out
ways to spend the surplus.

Want to know why voters haven’t been overly excited about the tax
cut? It’s because they are smart enough to realize that tax cuts never
will be permanent or meaningful unless they are coupled with reductions
in spending.

Trent Lott says that real tax relief will have to wait “until a
Republican president can join your Republican Congress in enacting it
into law.” Mr. Clinton’s veto may help put a Republican in the Oval
Office all right. However, voters must be forgiven if they do not
return a majority of Republicans to Congress, because, when it comes to
spending our money, it doesn’t seem to matter which party is in control
of the House and the Senate.


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