Commentary

Big Government Is Back

By Stephen Moore
November 4, 2000
Vice President Gore continues to assault Gov. George W. Bush’s $1.5 trillion tax cut plan on the grounds that it would “spend all the budget surplus.” But Gore’s own federal spending promises are more costly than Bush’s tax cut, by a long shot.

Gore’s campaign proposals — for universal federal preschool funding, drug benefits to seniors, the Kyoto global warming treaty, anti-smoking programs, expanded Medicaid health coverage, and on ad infinitum — would add $1.6 trillion to the federal budget over the next 10 years, and that price tag could double in the following decade. Bush is right: No Democratic presidential candidate in the last 30 years — neither Dukakis nor Mondale nor McGovern — put forward such a high-priced menu of new federal initiatives. In fact, the cost of Gore’s spending schemes exceeds the proposals of Ralph Nader’s Green Party.

I have scoured through all of the spending proposals presented on the Gore 2000 web site and in the latest Clinton-Gore budget proposal presented to Congress. I have added to that the taxpayers’ tab for all the special-interest campaign promises Gore has made over the past several months. The biggest-ticket items are new entitlement programs. For example, Gore’s gold-plated prescription drug benefit program for seniors would cost $432 billion. His “Retirement Savings Plus” plan would dole out another $200 billion in tax dollars to low-income workers — many of whom cannot afford to save on their own because of the 12 percent Social Security tax.

Expanding government health coverage to uninsured families would, conservatively estimated, cost $146 billion. His plan to provide free or subsidized preschool for three and 4 year-olds carries a $115 billion price.

Gore’s blueprint also envisions beefing up the budgets of most of the federal regulatory agencies, including OSHA, the EPA, and the civil rights and antitrust snoops at the Justice Department. He wants $16 billion for teacher pay raises, a $200 million anti-smoking initiative, $45 million for curtailing violence at abortion clinics, $2 billion to combat suburban sprawl, several hundred million to develop solar energy and other alternatives to fossil fuels, $2 billion for a “livable cities” plan, at least $1 billion more for researching global climate change, and the ultimate in political correctness: a new Labor Department program to “train women for high-tech jobs” (no price tag listed).

The precise total comes to $1.64 trillion in new spending through 2010 — or almost $15,000 for every household in America. What is even more astonishing is that Gore has suggested virtually no offsetting budget cuts. All this new spending would be paid for by squandering the expected tax surpluses. Out of the several thousand federal programs in the 1,600-page federal budget, Al Gore, the man who invented reinventing government, hasn’t yet identified a single one in his presidential campaign that should be terminated. Regrettably, neither has Bush.

In the presidential debates and on the campaign trail, Gore has cultivated a fiscally moderate image. But the truth is that from the moment he first entered Congress more than 20 years ago, Gore has been a relentless advocate of nanny-state government expansionism. In 1989 and 1990, Gore won the National Taxpayers Union award for the biggest spender on Capitol Hill, on both occasions nudging out Ted Kennedy for this dubious honor. In 11 of 13 years, Gore received the lowest possible NTU grade on taxpayer issues.

If enacted, Gore’s new generation of federal welfare state entitlement programs would be ticking fiscal time bombs that will explode over the next decade, just when Baby Boomers are set to retire. Gore’s audacious $1.5 trillion agenda to nationalize day care, health care, education, crime fighting, transportation policy, health care, zoning and traffic patterns are brilliantly softened with conservative rhetoric about advancing “fiscal responsibility.”

Gore is not so much a man who wants to reinvent government as he is a man who wants to relegitimize it and expand it as much as possible. What is truly unseemly is how he pursues that objective by mendaciously employing the language of fiscal restraint. His proposed blitz of new spending is more expensive than any other presidential candidate has sought since Lyndon Johnson unveiled the Great Society. And just when we thought the era of big government was over.

Stephen Moore is an adjunct fellow at the Cato Institute.