Commentary

Are Budget Deficits Good?

President Bill Clinton’s big-spending, high-taxing budget proves what many of us have long known: Deficits are good. Years of unending red ink helped check the free-spending tendencies of politicians from left to right. Unfortunately, the mirage of future surpluses has now opened wide the budget floodgates.

For instance, Clinton wants to create new child-care subsidies, launch a big research program on the supposed threat of global warming, spend more on computers for the abusive IRS, toss additional foreign aid into Africa ‘s chaotic money pit, create new federal housing initiatives to supplement failed old ones, throw more cash at artistic elites through the National Endowment for the Arts and spend billions of dollars to reduce class size in local schools.

Uncle Sam is to be simultaneously Santa Claus and national nanny, wending his way across the nation, spreading cash and regulations far and wide.

HUSBAND ANY SURPLUS

At the same time, the president tells us there is no money for tax cuts for those who earn the money he plans on spending. Instead, we should husband any surplus to “save” Social Security, he explains, while developing a new program for every interest group with a letterhead and at least two members. Those paying the bills can just shut up and pay more.

Clinton’s subterfuge, claiming to maintain fiscal discipline as he proposes a $150 billion flood of spending increases and tax hikes, wouldn’t matter so much if there was a real Republican opposition. True, House Majority Leader Dick Armey opines, “We can’t go back to the days of skyrocketing government spending,” which “the president proposes.” However, most Republicans give only lip service to the notion of limited government.

In his response to the president’s State of the Union speech, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott decried the high tax burden borne by Americans, and denounced government waste, such as the existence of “more than 750 education programs, in 39 different bureaucracies.” However, the GOP has controlled Congress for three years. Why are there still “more than 750 education programs, in 39 different bureaucracies”?


No doubt there are political risks to standing up for principle. But the American people really don’t need two Democratic parties.


The same disconnect between rhetoric and reality was evident when House Speaker Newt Gingrich denounced the president’s plan for “higher taxes, more spending, and a larger, less accountable government.” What would the speaker do differently? He recently gave a major speech in which he decried government bureaucracy, even after his party last year made the tax law more complicated. He cited problems in funding medical research, even though Congress has done little to curb the Food and Drug Administration’s deadly overregulation. He demanded that “we,” whoever that is, replace local administrators in urban school that don’t work, rather than suggest that Washington butt out and let parents choose where to send their kids.

Social Security is a decade away from insolvency, but Gingrich said there was “no crisis” and called for… creation of a commission to study the issue. He ended with a rousing call to reduce the burden of government, without suggesting elimination of a single program.

Indeed, GOP leaders are privately debating dropping the budget caps imposed only last summer. Republicans need to make a choice: stand up for principle or yield their majority to the Democrats.

Clinton’s proposals are wrong not because he likes wasteful bureaucracy — after all, his administration has been busy attempting to “reinvent” government. His initiatives are wrong because they aren’t appropriate for government.

Consider child care. The president wants Uncle Sam to throw cash at families where the parents work outside of the home. So far, the GOP response has been to propose a tax credit that would help stay-at-home moms as well.

How about a truly radical alternative: Suggest that parents be responsible for their own children’s care? Having kids is obviously a burden, but it is one freely undertaken. People who choose to have children should also be willing to pay the cost of doing so. When difficulties arise, help should come first from family and second from private charity.

THE REAL PROBLEM

Similarly, the GOP should thank the president for his concern over class size and suggest that he run for the Washington, D.C. School Board. The real problem with education is that parents have little influence in a political process dominated by administrators and unions. Instead of letting the Department of Education hand cash to local bureaucracies, Congress should take that money, turn it into vouchers, and send it to poor parents to help them take their kids out of failing schools. That is the only effective way to hold schools accountable.

No doubt there are political risks to standing up for principle. But the American people really don’t need two Democratic parties. If Republicans are only going to be willing accomplices in the continuing growth of government, the American people might as well elect Democrats, who at least admit that they believe Washington always knows best.

Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.