Commentary

An Open Letter to Appropriations Committee Chairman Bob Livingston

By Stephen Moore
January 5, 1998

Dear Chairman Livingston:

A little while back, you sent around a “Dear Colleague” letter responding to a report I wrote for the Cato Institute on the failed Republican budget revolution. In your letter you argue that Republicans have kept their budgetary promises over the past three years. But saying it doesn’t make it so.

Now there’s no doubt that you and your colleagues deserve much credit for achieving the first balanced budget in nearly 30 years. This heroic accomplishment happened because Republicans changed the entire nature of the debate by correctly making the moral and ethical case for balancing the budget.

My beef is with how the budget has been balanced. The deficit has been eliminated by forcing Americans to pay taxes in record amounts, not by lowering social spending. In your letter you challenge this point by asserting that my “analysis makes selective use of facts.” But the facts are fundamental and undeniable. Here are just a few facts from the spending bills passed this past summer and fall that Republicans in Congress need to explain:

· Low-income home energy assistance funding rises to $1.2 billion, a 20 percent increase.

· Goals 2000 funding rises to $530 million, an 8 percent increase.

· Bilingual education funding rises to $354 million, a 35 percent increase.

· Corporation for Public Broadcasting funding rises by $50 million, a 20 percent annual increase.

· Funding for Bill Clinton’s Americorps program rises to $423 million, a 5 percent increase.

· World Bank funding rises to $1.1 billion, a one-year increase of nearly 50 percent.

· The Agency for International Development budget rises to $6.4 billion, a 7 percent increase.

· Funding for the long-ago obsolete Appalachian Regional Commission rises by $10 million, a 6 percent increase.

· The Legal Services Corporation gets its largest budget ever at $300 million, a 6 percent increase.

· The Environmental Protection Agency budget rises to $7.4 billion, an 8 percent increase.

· Incredibly, the Internal Revenue Service, despite the recent hearings showing widespread abuses of taxpayer rights, receives a $7.77 billion budget, a 10 percent increase.

I could go on and on, but the underlying point seems clear. Scores of obsolete, unproductive and unconstitutional spending programs — programs that, for more than 20 years, Republicans promised to eliminate if they ever seized control of Congress — receive big budget increases in the first year of this “dream come true” budget deal.

There are more disappointments as well. Given the Clinton administration fundraising scandals in the Department of Commerce, now would seem to be an ideal time to eliminate this haven for corporate welfare. Inexplicably, Commerce receives a $300 million budget increase. The Department of Education, which was targeted for closure in the 104th Congress, receives an 11 percent increase in funding. Meanwhile, pork-barrel spending has approached record levels in the 105th Congress, according to the Congressional Quarterly. This is far from the kind of budget revolution that fiscal conservatives envisioned and that Republicans have promised for 20 years.

You’re certainly right when you say that domestic spending would have been lower had Bill Clinton not irresponsibly vetoed Republican entitlement reforms in 1995. But the 105th Congress actually increases current entitlements and creates new ones as well. How do you explain the new child health care entitlement, the new welfare entitlements and the other new health care mandates that are included in the 1997 budget deal? It would seem logical that the first way to curtail runaway entitlements is to stop creating new ones. Republicans have created five new entitlements in this year’s budget deal.

As for your claim that Republicans have held the line on domestic discretionary spending, this year’s level was higher than the amount agreed to by Bill Clinton, George Mitchell and Tom Foley five years ago. Most of the American public would applaud if Republicans eliminated the Department of Energy, the Department of Commerce, the Department of Labor and the $60 billion in corporate welfare that pollutes the domestic discretionary budget. Yet almost all of those areas of the budget have seen increases in spending.

Finally, you write, “We would all prefer bigger cuts in domestic spending, but there is only so much that we can do with Bill Clinton in the White House.” But I found dozens of social programs in the budget that received higher appropriations for 1998 than even Bill Clinton requested.

Moreover, discretionary spending is the one area of the budget that Bill Clinton has absolutely no control over. It is Congress that has the power of the purse. This is, after all, the point that Republicans made throughout the Reagan years when Democrats appropriated huge increases in federal spending. You yourself correctly noted back in 1995 that if the president vetoes a zero in the budget, he is still left with zero. If we are spending too much today on the National Endowment for the Arts, the Legal Services Corporation, the Department of Education, Goals 2000, Americorps and so on down the line, the culprit is not Bill Clinton. The culprit is Congress.

The ultimate insult to conservatives is when you, Newt Gingrich and Trent Lott call this year’s budget and its massive hikes in social spending a “Republican victory.”

Happy Holidays!

Stephen Moore is the director of fiscal policy studies at the Cato Institute.