The Grand Old Spending Party

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Congressional budget resolutions are all too often like New Year's resolutions. We all pledge at the start of the year to watch less TV, lose weight or exercise daily, but the promises are violated early and often--then soon conveniently forgotten.

This year's budget plan, crafted ably by Rep. John Kasich of Ohio, hasmany positive features. By taking Social Security off-budget, the plandeftly avoids the "save Social Security first" trap set by the White House.By adhering to the spending ceilings from the 1997 budget deal, the planwould, in theory at least, prevent another ugly $20 billion election-evespending spree like the one we saw at the end of 1998. Perhaps best of all,it would effectively repeal the "pay-go" budget rules that have preventedsavings from budget cuts from being turned into tax cuts.

But the plan still has gaping defects. First, the GOP's budgets arestill too big. The $1.74 trillion Uncle Sam would spend next year is morethan $50,000 per second. In the five-year budget now being pasted togetherin Congress, the federal government will spend just a shade under $10trillion--of which about 90 percent will replenish nanny state socialprograms.

Second, the budget resolution fails to mention by name even asingle government program that should be extinguished. Can it be that theparty that seized a majority in the House and Senate five years ago with aReaganite message of smaller and smarter government can no longer identifyprograms that should be smaller and smarter? Surely a budget that calledfor the elimination of oinkers like bilingual education, corporate welfaregrants to market Ralston Purina cat food, 1970s-style population controlprograms around the world and honey bee subsidies would elicit thunderousapproval from a public that increasingly questions whether it gets anythingclose to its money's worth from Uncle Sam.

Many domestic programs that were once slated for elimination are now betterfed than they were when the Democrats ran Capitol Hill. The odious Goals2000 program's budget has doubled from $231 million in 1995 to $507 millionin 1999. The Economic Development Administration, a pork-barrel agency thatthe Reagan White House long ago identified as a weed patch in the federalbudget, has seen its budget catapult from $350 million to $438 million. Theaccompanying table shows how programs once slated for termination have grownin recent years.

The Return of the Living Dead
Cabinet Agencies 1995 1999
Department of Commerce $ 3,410 $ 4,767
Department of Education 31,322 35,000
Programs Goals 2000 231 507
Manufacturing Extension Prg. 40 128
Economic Development Admin. 350 438
Star Schools 25 45
Americorps 426 456
Bilingual Education 225 351
Trade Adjustment Assistance 268 325
Adult Education 299 400
Source: Internal Revenue Service

Our strong suspicion is that, by year's end, this year's budgetresolution may not be worth the paper it's written on. One reason to beskeptical is that so far this year when actual spending plans have come to avote, fiscal conservatives have been routed. Earlier this month HouseRepublicans approved a 50 percent four-year increase in the Great Societyera Peace Corps program. "I'm surprised that anyone who says they are forsmaller government would have supported this bill," moaned Rep. DavidMcIntosh (R-Ind.) after the 326-90 vote.

This seems to be the continuation of a pro-spending trend. Last yearthe inflation-adjusted increase in domestic discretionary spending was thesecond largest in 21 years. Republicans in Congress have outspent Clinton'sbudget in two of the past three years.

In some cases, the GOP is even now openly boasting of outspending theWhite House. The budget resolution trumpets "an overall Department ofEducation net increase of $2.4 billion in2000, double the president's budget, and an increase of $31billion over the next five years, five times the president's request." Suchpro-spending rhetoric sends to voters precisely the mixed messages that arecausing the GOP heartburn in the polls.

On fiscal matters Republicans need to learn from Reagan's politicalsuccess in battling the pro-spending Democrats for eight years. Thatsuccess emanated from Reagan's unwavering commitment to a few core ideas:strong defense, less government interference in our lives, lower taxes.Even when Reagan lost the short-term policy battles, he drew public supportby sticking to those bedrock principles of freedom. When the Reagan WhiteHouse caved in to congressional spending demands, it didn't crow about it.

This year's budget resolution is fine. But actions speak louder thanwords. Will Republicans actually cast the tough votes to cut spending?Rep. Mark Sanford, the third-term South Carolina Republican recentlydespaired: "I would hate to have to say that we've spent five years at thisjob, and at the end of it, government was bigger and taxing more than whenwe came, but that's where we are." That's also the best way to get run outof town in November 2000.

Stephen Moore and James Carter

Stephen Moore is a director of fiscal policy studies at the Cato Institute. James Carter is a fiscal analyst working in Washington.