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President Bush’s plan to stimulate the economy and cut taxes is a good plan. However, he and his Republican colleagues who control the House and Senate have cut the legs out from under it by spending like there is no tomorrow.
The Republican Party traditionally has been the party of “less government,” the party that represented fiscal restraint. For 40 long years, when the Democrats controlled Congress from 1954-1993, Republicans were the voice in the wilderness, railing against increased spending and soaring deficits.
In 1994, when Republicans finally got their chance to lead, they held the line for a year and a half and then gave up. When that happened, spending began going up at an alarming rate. “It’s all because of Bill Clinton,” they complained. “If only we had a Republican president in the White House, then things would change.”
They finally got their wish and things changed all right. It’s gotten worse, much worse. During Bush’s first three years in office, real non-defense discretionary outlays, adjusted for inflation, will rise 18 percent. This increase outpaces all recent presidents.
In February, Chris Edwards, director of fiscal policy at the CATO Institute, ran the numbers. Mr. Bush’s budget for Fiscal Year 2004 called for an increase in discretionary outlays of 3.5 percent, which follows increases of 7.8 percent in FY 2003 and 13.1 percent in FY 2002.
However, the budget that Mr. Bush presented for FY 2004 is far from a done deal. Traditionally, the president’s budget request is treated as a spending floor, not a ceiling. Also, the FY 2003 figures do not include that $70 billion defense supplemental and the supplemental bills that surely will follow before the close of the current fiscal year on October 1.
If you take out the increases in defense discretionary outlays – most of which can be justified – discretionary outlays will rise 3.2 percent in FY 2004, following increases of 7.9 percent in FY 2003 and 12.3 percent in FY 2002.
To be fair, the Senate was controlled by Democrats during Mr. Bush’s first two years in office. However, the House had just as much clout as the Senate when they went behind the closed doors of a conference committee to hash out the differences in the spending bills. Also, bear in mind, the lion’s share of the FY 2003 budget was put off until this year when Republicans controlled both Houses of Congress.
Republicans in the Senate are quick to point out that they don’t have the votes to break a filibuster. However, budget bills are not subject to a filibuster. The truth is Bill Frist, the Senate’s new majority leader, would not control his own members, who were busy cutting deals with their Democrat colleagues. They agreed to support a record number of pork-barrel projects totaling $22.5 billion.
Hardly the kind of behavior you would expect from Republicans with the economy sputtering, the stock market in the tank, a pending war in Iraq and the coming train wreck on elderly entitlement programs!
According the National Taxpayers Union Foundation, the Senate’s “deficit Hawks” who initially trimmed the size of the president’s tax cut from for $726 billion down to $350 billion are some of the biggest spenders in Congress.
Senators, who voted to uphold the president’s tax cuts, had, in the previous Congress, sponsored or co-sponsored bills that – if enacted all at once – would increase federal spending by an average of $19.5 billion per year. In contrast, senators who voted to slash the tax cut in half (out of concern for the deficit) had sponsored an agenda that would raise spending $89.9 billion per year. They are hypocrites of the worst sort!
Unfortunately, most people simply don’t keep tabs on these folks.
However, Mr. Bush has given those big spenders an easy target because he has not been the model of fiscal responsibility. Run the numbers in President Bush’s current budget proposal. He plans to increase discretionary outlays from $791 billion in FY 2003 to $926 billion in FY 2008. That means he has proposed that an addition $135 billion in new spending be added to the federal budget in FY 2008. In contrast, his tax cuts that year would reduce federal revenues by just $50 billion (without accounting for the economic growth benefits).
The size of the proposed tax cut, which has been scaled back by the president from $750 billion to $550 billion over 10 years, is not a problem. It’s spending by the members of the House, the Senate and, yes, this president that is the problem.