Much is being made over the package of tax cuts the Republican-led
Congress has passed in recent weeks. However, little is being said
about the stealth $1.50 airport ticket tax hike scheduled to come up
before the House this week. The National Taxpayers Union Foundation
estimates the tax, which could add as much as $6.00 to every trip, will
total $3.4 billion over the next five years.
While Congress was approving a small package of business tax relief,
it socked employers with a $1.00 hike in the minimum wage, thereby
adding another $11.2 billion to the cost of doing business over the next
10 years. However, this minimum wage increase not only will be borne by
business, it represents an $880 million unfunded mandate to state and
local governments over the next three years, which could be passed along
to you and me in the form of tax increases.
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Unfortunately, that is just the beginning. Taxpayers also will be
asked to pay billions more for government training programs because the
higher minimum wage will price some unskilled Americans out of the job
market. The biggest losses, however, will be experienced by those
looking for entry-level jobs. President Clinton likes to point to the
fact that the last minimum wage increase did not reduce employment.
He's right, but he is not telling the whole truth because the 1996 and
1997 minimum wage increase did reduce employment growth.
Nevertheless, our Republican leaders let themselves be sucked into
the minimum wage debate, again, for two reasons. Reason No. 1: They are
unwilling to spend the time to dispel the myth that most minimum wage
workers are poor adults working full-time and trying to raise a family.
Reason No. 2: These Republican leaders simply haven't learned how to
lead so they are willing to trade the minimum wage for something they
know will help overall growth. This two step forward; one step back
approach has left our economy mired in low gear.
Meanwhile, when Congress discovered another $26 billion in the
projected budget surplus, leadership began working overtime to spend
it. On Thursday, the House Appropriations Committee approved a
supplemental spending bill that soaks up about half of these funds.
Before the year is out, you can bet Congress will devise a way to make
the rest disappear, and then some.
Last year, with Clinton and the Republican-led Congress trying to
outbid each other on spending, we thought it couldn't get worse. While
GOP leaders were bragging about how they were saving Social Security by
not dipping into the surplus money that funds the nation's retirement
system, they were careful not to mention the fact that they had ignored
the legally imposed budget caps and gobbled up another $14 billion in
surplus funds to boot. Furthermore, they pushed another $20 billion off
into fiscal year 2001.
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The supplemental spending bill to the FY-2000 budget will have $9
billion of new spending and will put about $7 billion of the money that
was shoved off until 2001 back into this year's budget. This is being
hailed as a great step toward financial accountability. If only it were
so! It was done for one simple reason: It will increase the baseline
for the year 2000, which will allow Congress to justify spending even
more money in 2001.
Now you should see the laundry list of items that went into this
supplemental bill -- some reasonable, some highly unreasonable. For
example: There is $20 million for a new Federal Department of
Agriculture Building in Los Angeles because the present facility is 40
years old. This hardly qualifies as an emergency that requires
supplementing the FY-2000 budget. If this is a priority, it easily
could be incorporated in next year's budget, without soaking up the
surplus. There's another $259.7 million in agriculture disaster
assistance. This is on top of the $19 billion we already are spending
for agriculture disaster assistance, over and above the bloated
There is no shortage of people who travel to Washington each and
every day with their hands out, but is this a reason to soak up the
surplus money? If something truly is an emergency and justifies a
supplemental spending bill, couldn't that money be obtained by
rescinding other less pressing items? After all, in 1995, when
Republicans were handed the keys to the leadership offices in both
houses of Congress, one of the first things they did was pass a bill
rescinding $50 billion in unnecessary expenses.
The big reason they are getting ready to pass this supplemental
spending bill this year is that the money is there. Despite all this
talk about fiscal restraint, there hasn't been much at all. Through
most of the first half of the 1990s, with Democrats in control of
Congress, total discretionary outlays remained fairly flat, around $530
to 545 billion. When Republicans took over, after that initial round
of cuts, they simply lost their way. In 1996, discretionary spending
began to soar, going up almost $100 billion dollars during the last half
of the decade. The sad truth for American taxpayers is while Democrats
were big spenders, the Republicans have proven themselves to be even