Clinton and Gore Reinvent Big Government

This article first appeared in the Washington Times, February 7, 2000.
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In 1995 Bill Clinton famously declared that "the era of big government is over," and for a very brief, glorious time in Washington, he was right. For about 18 months after the Republicans won control of Congress, big government and Bill Clinton were in full scale retreat.

But in this, his last budget, Bill Clinton has formally announced thatbig government is back with a vengeance. This $1.8 trillion fiscalblueprint is the largest request for money of any government or enterprisein the history of civilization. If approved, the expenditures of the U.S.government will be $400 billion larger than they were when Bill Clintonfirst arrived in Washington and converted the White House into a den ofiniquity and Chinese fundraising. That's just under $4,000 more governmentfor every household inAmerica.

The budget contains more than 100 new federal initiatives. Perhapsmore amazingly, there isn't a single existing federal program of consequencethat we would finally get rid of. In reading through these cavernousproposals, one gets a sense that this White House truly believes that thereisn't a single problem in America that can't be fixed with a new gold-platedgovernment program. Gary Bauer wasn't exaggerating much when he complainedthat he wouldn't be surprised if Clinton proposed a federal initiative tocombat "nail biting."

The National Taxpayers Union has provided the public service oftallying up all the costs associated with the Clinton-Gore agenda. Theyreckon the price tag is $126 billion. That's more than the total income ofevery resident of Vermont and New Hampshire. So much for saving SocialSecurity first.

Many of these proposals were first unveiled in the president's State ofthe Union message last month. The Senate Budget Committee calculated thatClinton was, on average, proposing roughly $1.5 billion of new spendingevery minute he spoke. The U.S. Treasury Department only has the capacityto print about $1 billion a minute. Translation: Clinton wants to spendmoney even faster than the U.S. government's presses can print it.

Where would all this $1.8 trillion of money go? Clinton proposes thefurther federalization of day care, schools and crime, a multi-billiondollar increase in foreign aid (including paying America's phantom back dues"owed" to the United Nations), hundreds of millions of dollars of newfederal aid to "make our cities more liberal," err, "livable," "the largestexpansion in federal health coverage since the establishment of Medicare," anew "farm safety net, a 25 percent increase in federal R & D dollars, andmore funding for discrimination claims (trial lawyers are going to lovethat). My favorite Clinton-Gore initiative is the $336 million pricetag forprograms to "help Americans help themselves." Shouldn't the people "helpingthemselves," pay for it themselves?

But what of the GOP response? This budget and its catalog of nannystate proposals should be denounced and ridiculed. If they have any fightleft in them, GOP leaders must draw a clear line of distinction in the sandand promise to American taxpayers that they will fight against this federalpower-grab. To this Clinton budget, Congress should "just say no."

So far Republicans have signaled a maddening receptiveness to all ofthis spending. The Republican response to the State of the Union by 2 ofthe Senate's least conservative voices, Susan Collins of Maine and BillFrist of Tennessee was, to put it charitably, feeble. We were spoon fed"me-too" Republicanism. Susan Collins told us that Republicans want tospend "more money" on schools than Bill Clinton (it seems just yesterdayRepublicans correctly wanted to get the federal government and its vastbureaucracy out of education), and Bill Frist declared that we shouldsocialize medicine at a slightly slower pace than the White House proposes.How inspiring!

The Clinton tax proposals are also wrongheaded. The budget containsabout $15 billion in tax cuts--but they amount to less than 1 percent of our$2 trillion in revenues. Worse, these are precisely the kinds of"targetted" tax carve-outs that merely use the tax code as a device forsocial engineering. They would only further complicate the IRS code thatalready runs 9,000 pages long. The biggest beneficiaries of the plan wouldbe accountants and tax attorneys.

What is needed is precisely the opposite approach on taxes: a radicaloverhaul and simplification of the code. One low flat rate, no deductions,a post card return, and a more civilized IRS to enforce it. Unfair taxeslike the death tax, the Social Security earnings test, capital gains, andthe marriage penalty ought to be ended immediately.

This budget is important because we now get our first glimpse at whatAl Gore would do if he were president. It isn't a pretty picture. Clintonand by implication Al Gore have presented a bold and ambitious Democraticagenda of a re-invigorated and activist central government in Washington.It is a utopian agenda of cradle to grave security--patterned after the kindof paternalistic welfare state that is all the rage in Europe. Thatapproach has saddled those nations with stagnant economies, double digitunemployment, and capital flight.

To prevent their own political extinction, Republicans now need toprovide "a choice not an echo," as Barry Goldwater once said. Meaningfulreductions in debt and taxes, spending restraint, elimination of corruptprograms like foreign aid and corporate welfare, individual accounts forSocial Security, and term limits would be an effective counterplan. The GOPalso needs to take credit for the economic expansion, for tax cuts alreadydelivered, for the balanced budget, and the spectacular success of welfarereform.

One thing is certain: if Republicans don't energetically oppose theClinton-Gore agenda of government expansionism while they are in themajority this year, they may very well be fighting the Gore-Feinstein agendanext year while sitting on the back benches in their accustomed spot in theminority.