Commentary

A Republican Capitulation?

Who needs to watch reruns of the Three Stooges when he can turn on CSPAN and see the House in action? Newt Gingrich, Dick Armey, Tom DeLay, John Boehner and Bill Paxon make up a far better comedy team than Larry, Curley, and Moe.

A group of people who just two years ago were hailed as political geniuses have turned out to be more incompetent than the worst fools in an Allen Drury novel. Goodness knows there’s reason to conduct a coup against Speaker Newt Gingrich. With the GOP Congress approving a big spending budget compromise and substituting cheap cubic zirconia for its promised “crown jewel” tax cut, principled and competent leadership is desperately needed. But people who attempt, bungle and then disavow a coup against one of their own embody neither principle nor competence.

Rather. the entire leadership has been tainted. When Mr. Gingrich falls— and even fewer members are likely to support him in the next crisis— those around him also will probably be swept aside.

The GOP’s fratricidal infighting would serve a purpose if it involved substantive issues. But the most likely beneficiaries of any purge are the centrist apparatchiks who provided get-along-go-along “leadership” during the years of Democratic dominance. They never reconciled to the Republican Party’s new direction after the 1994 election and would be little more than Democrats in drag.

Yet the tax debate suggests there isn’t much difference between the two parties even today. The GOP can blame no one but itself for agreeing to the disastrous budget compromise with Bill Clinton. For Republicans to whine that the president promised to let them write the tax bill suggests naivete bordering on stupidity. Bill Clinton has lied his way through nearly three decades in politics. Why should he stop now?


The GOP has proven, when in power, to be a shameless accomplice in the growth of government.


Moreover, rather than offering an across-the-board rate reduction, which polls showed was much more popular than the president’s special interest tax package, the GOP came up with its own special interest tax package. For many Americans— those without kids who don’t generate much capital gains income— there is no particular reason to favor Congress’ proposal. The latter offers them little direct relief and could even end up raising their tax burden, with higher levies on airline tickets, for instance. Friends of taxpayers the Republicans are not. In a contest over who is the better salesman of junk legislation, Bill Clinton unsurprisingly wins.

Even so, the GOP position was not hopeless. Republicans could have rebuked the president’s class war rhetoric with two simple arguments. First, tax reduction means reducing taxes. That involves allowing those who pay taxes to keep more of their money. It doesn’t mean giving money to people who don’t pay taxes. This is really a very simple concept: Tax cuts mean cutting taxes, not sending checks to people who don’t pay taxes.

Second, since the top 20 percent of earners pay nearly two-thirds of taxes, any fair tax cut will give more money back to them than to those in the bottom 20 percent. To repeat: People who pay more in taxes deserve— yes, deserve— larger tax cuts. If you pay 10 times as much as someone with a lower income, your savings should be 10 times as big. What could be more fair?

That Republicans are unable to consistently articulate either of these arguments suggests the GOP is fit for only minority status. But that wouldn’t be so bad. Consider what happened after the 1992 elections. The Democrats controlled the presidency and both houses of Congress, yet achieved very little. The Clinton budget passed without a vote to spare in both chambers. Spending growth slowed. Part of his tax package failed. His pork barrel spending initiative failed. His health care takeover failed. He made no effort to raise the job-killing minimum wage. And President Clinton drifted toward the center.

Then the GOP took over and disaster ensued: Outlays rose more quickly, regulations expanded unabated, and Congress upped the minimum wage, caved on environmental extremism, increased health care regulation, is on the verge of reversing welfare reform, and has proved incapable of defending its tax cut. The evidence seems irrefutable. The only time the Stupid Party does not act stupid is when it is the minority party.

Thus, if we are lucky, the Democrats will win the 1998 congressional election with a tiny majority. Then they will begin pushing their usual radical left-wing agenda: huge new spending programs, big tax increases, grand new intrusive regulations. In response, the Republicans will unify, organize and kill the crazy proposals. It may be America’s only hope. The GOP has proven, when in power, to be a shameless accomplice in the growth in government. Only in the minority do Republicans demonstrate anything approaching principle.

Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.