Commentary

GOP Should Give Spending Cuts a Chance

“Nobody in my district is screaming for tax cuts, they are screaming for a prescription drug benefit.” Maxine Waters? Nope, try Republican Congressman Steven LaTourette of Ohio. “I’m concerned. This budget is essentially $11 billion under the president’s number.” Barney Frank? Wrong again-it comes from New York Republican Sherwood Boehlert. “I don’t like what I see so far.” Nancy Pelosi? Sorry, it’s House Government Reform Chairman Tom Davis — Republican, Virginia.

The target of their sniping is Rep. Jim Nussle of Iowa, chairman of the House Budget Committee. It turns out that in writing the FY2004 House Budget Resolution, Nussle called for a paltry 1 percent cut in nondefense discretionary and mandatory spending.

Almost 10 years after the GOP swept into Congress, it is evident that the self-proclaimed party of limited government has become the party of unlimited spending. The GOP Congress has delivered three of the top five largest spending sprees in American history — the other two occurred during World War II.

While the Senate can be counted on to be a perpetual spending machine regardless of the party in power, the few GOP spending hawks in the House could use some assistance from the White House. But the leadership on spending from President Bush has been virtually nonexistent.

In his most recent budget message, the president says, “I will also insist on spending discipline in Washington D.C., so we can meet our priorities.” Interesting, because in last year’s budget message the president called for “restraint in government spending.” And what did President Bush say in his first budget message to the American people? “Government spending has risen too quickly.”

Unfortunately, the president’s rhetoric has not been matched by his deeds. Under Bush’s new budget, total spending will have risen 19.6 percent since he entered into office. However, national defense is not responsible for all of that increase. Non-defense spending will have jumped 18.1 percent.

Given that Congress technically controls the purse strings, it deserves much of the blame. However, President Bush has not vetoed a single spending bill during his three years in office. Instead, he has agreed to sign every piece of legislation crossing his desk, including a bloated farm bill and the recent pork-ridden FY2003 omnibus bill. To make a comparison, President Reagan had already vetoed 22 spending bills at the same point in his administration.

Fortunately for timid Republicans help has arrived from the Congressional Budget Office. The nonpartisan CBO recently released its annual “Budget Options” publication, which offers legislators billions of dollars’ worth of sensible spending reduction ideas. More importantly for Republicans, traditional Democratic arguments that the spending cut ideas are “draconian” or “extreme” would be weakened because of the CBO’s neutral reputation.

If Congress were to heed the suggestions of the CBO, over $50 billion would be freed-up in fiscal year 2004 alone. And, projected over the course of the next 10 years, the sum would amount to almost $1.5 trillion dollars. Thus, by adhering to the simple spending ideas offered by the CBO, enough money would be available to prosecute the war, enact the president’s tax cuts, and still balance the budget in the near-term.

Fact is, the times we live in require that the federal government tighten its belt. The economy is crying out for tax reduction and regulatory rollbacks. The constant threat of terrorism requires that scarce resources be allocated in a way to enhance America’s security. Unless drastically reformed soon, programs like Social Security and Medicare will wreak economic havoc when the baby boomers start to retire. Adding a prescription drug program to a financially troubled Medicare program — as both the administration and congressional Republicans have proposed — is not a step in the right direction.

President Bush has shown extreme courage in international affairs when confronted with hostility, from friend and foe alike. There is no doubt that he can demonstrate similar courage on the spending front when challenged by unfriendly Democrats and fellow Republicans that have gone wobbly. Republicans still have time to become the party of limited government — but not much.

Veronique de Rugy is a fiscal policy analyst and Tad DeHaven is a research assistant at the Cato Institute.