On Monday, Jan. 21, 1985, during his second inaugural address, my father – President Ronald Reagan – gave the nation some very sound advice when he said, “We must act now to protect future generations from government’s desire to spend its citizens’ money and tax them into servitude when the bills come due. Let us make it unconstitutional for the Federal Government to spend more than the Federal Government takes in.”
Tragically, we did not take that advice, and the United States government continues on a wild spending spree the likes of which the nation has never seen before.
What appalls me is the failure of George W. Bush and the Republican leadership in Congress – both proudly bearing the mantle of conservatism – to curb this obsession with squandering not only the money of today’s taxpayers but that of future generations who will be saddled with the monstrous debts they have imposed.
This orgy of spending has to stop, and stop now. If the Republican Party is to survive, it must reassert its traditional role as the guardian of the public treasury and the sworn foe of unrestrained government spending.
A growing coalition of Republican Senators and House members is charting a path towards restoring fiscal responsibility, and they are beginning to have an effect.
As Bob Novak has reported, on Monday night a group of GOP Senators led by Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., killed a measure, drafted in secret under bipartisan auspices, in which its sponsors sought to sneak through a bill sending $9 billion into state Medicaid programs under the pretext of hurricane relief.
Now $9 billion is peanuts at a time when figures like $300 billion are tossed around for hurricane relief as if they were confetti, but it’s start. It’s also a signal that a growing number of GOP legislators are saying they’ve had enough and are not going to take it anymore.
The other night Sen. George Allen, R-Va., told me that he and Congressman James Talent, R-Mo., are proposing a constitutional amendment giving the president the power of a line-item veto. This is an idea whose time has come – my father saw that power as one way to restrain the spending impulses of pork-obsessed members of Congress.
The whole deficit business goes back to 1974 with the Budget Impoundment Act of 1974, which took away the authority of the president to impound funds appropriated by Congress that he believes, if spent, would result in a budget deficit.
Since that time it has prevented the president from doing anything to curb wasteful pork-laden spending measures except vetoing complete bills, which in most cases proves to be impractical.
Congressman Mike Pence, R-Ind., and Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz, have been leading a move to find ways to offset the $200 or $300 billion now planned for hurricane relief. They and their GOP allies on the Hill are recommending holding back certain programs – such as the prescription drug plan – for a year and diverting the tons of pork in the recently enacted, pork-heavy federal highway bill to cover the cost of the relief programs.
Tragically, for daring to advance this sensible alternative to loading up the federal budget deficit, the House GOP leadership took Pence to the woodshed. However, that will not quash the growing sentiment among rank-and-file members of Congress, and the leadership – like it or not – will have to fall in line.
If they don’t, you can bet that the Republican Party is going to lose control of Congress next year, and with Democrats in power, government spending will go through the roof.
(E-mail Mike Reagan at firstname.lastname@example.org.)