Originally Published: April 20, 2001 7:15 p.m.
During the presidential campaign, George W. Bush said that only in Washington would anyone consider a reduction in the rate of spending increases a "cut."
Now, as president, he is experiencing for himself the stupidity of Washington-think.
The proposed Bush budget for fiscal 2002 would spend a record $1.96 trillion, a 5.6 percent increase over spending. Conservative estimates of the budget surplus over the next 10 years total $5.64 trillion. Yet, liberals — mostly Democrats but some Republicans — are screaming about "cuts" and the disaster they predict will result if Congress enacts the Bush budget. The usual congressional Democrats are uttering the predictable cry about benefits for "the rich." Their alarm bells ring hollow, but they show the problem that big and ever-growing government, fed by career politicians, has become.
Instead of concentrating on spending, we should be examining results. Has the money we paid and Congress spent yielded the advertised benefits? If not, why are we spending more every year? If Congress would act like responsible citizens and exercise fiscal restraint, it would provide far more revenue for government and for existing businesses to expand and new ones to start. It should limit government growth to the 4 percent Bush has called for — along with tax cuts.
The problem is in the tax code, which continues to punish risk-taking and hard work. A healthy, growing economy will produce all of the tax revenue that government needs (not wants, which is another matter). As for our paltry (compared to most other nations) national debt of just more than $3 trillion, that figure will continue to decline on its own so long as the economy grows.
Some facts from the National Taxpayers Union (NTU) highlight the budget politics.
According to the NTU's John Berthoud and Jeff Dircksen, non-defense discretionary spending in the Bush budget actually will be 60.8 percent greater (or 25.3 percent after adjusting for inflation) than in fiscal year 1992. Measured against the first Reagan budget, this is a 42.8 percent increase. And, to show how much government spending has grown, the NTU figures show a 99 percent spending increase in real terms over the 1972 budget.
The Bush figures still keep spending at record high levels. It doesn't cut any entitlement program. It does cut some pork, which is a major reason some congresspersons are howling like stuck pigs. Most of the budget reflects a slowdown in the spending increases. It doesn't "gut" any federal agencies, yet alarmists will again raise the specter of no Social Security checks for retirees, laid-off police and closed libraries. The lie worked before, so why not try it again?
A visit to the NTU Web page recalls that then-House Speaker Tip O'Neill (D-Mass.) countered the 1981 $1.2 trillion Reagan tax cut proposal over five years with an annual $237.4 billion tax reduction plan of his own. How could Democrats consider the O'Neill plan responsible, then call a Bush tax cut proposal of $160 billion over 10 years irresponsible now?
In 1981, the federal budget was "only" $678 billion. Since 1989 (when Ronald Reagan left office), the federal government's domestic outlays, adjusted for inflation, have grown by an enormous 10 percent per year, according to an analysis by The Heritage Foundation. Domestic spending expanded at a faster rate under President George H.W. Bush than it did under other recent presidents, including such "big spenders" as Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter. Heritage labeled the first President Bush as "the biggest champion of new domestic spending since Franklin Roosevelt."
The current President Bush is right to begin easing up on the accelerator. Critics say Bush not only is putting on the brakes but also throwing government into reverse. This is a lie, but people who get their news solely from television are likely to believe it if liberals in the media and Congress keep repeating it.
The facts are available on the Internet.
They say we get the government we deserve. If we do, shouldn't we be getting what we pay for instead of throwing our money away? Tax time is the best time to consider the answers to these questions.
(Syndicated columnist Cal Thomas can be reached at Tribune Media Services, 435 N. Michigan Ave. Ste. 1400, Chicago, IL 60611.)