Are the Deficits Forever?

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“The success
of a party means little except when the nation is using that party
for a large and definite purpose,” said Woodrow Wilson in his first
inaugural. “No one can mistake the purpose for which the nation
now seeks to use the Democratic Party.”

As with
Wilson’s Democrats in 1913, so it is with the Republican Party today.
It has been called to power for the “large and definite purpose”
of halting the growth of government and putting the nation’s fiscal
house in order. Whether it can succeed is another matter.

While a
visitor to Capitol Hill the day the gavel was passed from Nancy
Pelosi to John Boehner could not miss the confident enthusiasm of
the new Republican class for the assignment history has given it,
the balance of power in this city weighs heavily against its success.

Consider.
To bring the budget even close to balance in half a decade means
cutting projected spending for Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security.
But any changes here have to be agreed to by Harry Reid’s Senate,
and then by Barack Obama, who has a veto that the House Republicans
have not a prayer of overriding.

And as
Obama showed at year’s end when he agreed to a two-year extension
of George W. Bush’s tax cuts in return for payroll tax cuts of his
own and new unemployment benefits, the White House will exact a
high price for Obama’s signature.

As for cutting
defense, if House Republicans have the kidney for that, they will
have to overcome resistance from their own neocons, hawks and lobbyists
for the military-industrial complex who are former Republican members
of Congress.

Will farm-belt
Republicans go along with cuts in agricultural subsidies? Will bricks-and-mortar
boys go along with cuts in a federal highway program that is the
legacy of GOP Rep. Bud Shuster of Pennsylvania?

The U.S.
Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable, who help finance
the party, have programs inside that $3.5 trillion federal budget
they wish to see protected. Will a Republican House, most of whose
senior members have supped at their tables, bite the hand that holds
the big envelopes?

And when
it comes to cutting social programs — welfare, food stamps, the
earned income tax credit, unemployment insurance, Pell grants, housing
subsidies — the party of Nancy Pelosi and Reid, unreconciled to
its repudiation, with the aid of the mainstream media, will paint
the GOP as the hard right with hearts of titanium who deny the necessities
of life to the neediest while defending tax cuts for millionaires.

Can the party
stand the heat, or will it get out of the kitchen?

While Republicans
in 2008 seemed to accept defeat as the just desserts of their own
failings, the Democratic left acts as though it were cheated of
power by an unscrupulous enemy. As Republicans and their families
were celebrating in the Capitol, they were being roundly cursed
on cable TV by Democrats and their allies.

This is not
to counsel despair. It is to suggest that the true conservatives
and Tea Party true believers who gave the GOP its victory in November
have won a single major engagement in a long war whose outcome remains
very much in doubt.

After all,
FDR’s New Deal was never repealed. It was confirmed by President
Eisenhower. Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society was never repealed. It
was consolidated by Richard Nixon. Even Ronald Reagan conceded that
he had failed to control federal spending, though he cut taxes and
regulations. Then came Bush I and Bush II, both of whom were, in
Fred Barnes’ description, “Big Government Conservatives.”

The federal
government now spends close to 25 percent of the entire economy,
a share not equaled since World War II, while the feds collect around
15 percent of gross domestic product in taxes.

Looking
back over history, the growth of government seems inexorable, almost
unstoppable. And, invariably, it is has been crises that bring it
about.

World War
I brought a vast expansion of government. But after Wilson’s war,
the country turned to Republicans Warren Harding and Cal Coolidge,
who cut income taxes and government back to where it consumed, when
Silent Cal went home, about 3 percent of the gross national product.

The
Depression, the New Deal and World War II led to the permanent expansion
of government. And the postwar cuts in government never took it
back to prewar levels, for the Cold War was suddenly upon us.

The end
of the Cold War brought defense cuts, a peace dividend and balanced
budgets under Bill Clinton and a Republican Congress, but Bush II
and the neocons took care of that, with trillion-dollar tax cuts,
trillion-dollar wars and trillion-dollar expansions in domestic
spending.

Where,
then, is the hope? It is here:

As Boehner
put it, we can’t kick the can up the road anymore, because we’ve
come to the end of the road. Like Greece and Portugal, Ireland and
Illinois, New York and New Jersey, we have arrived at Hotel California.

January
8, 2011

Patrick
J. Buchanan [send
him mail
] is co-founder and editor of The
American Conservative
. He is also the author of seven books,
including Where
the Right Went Wrong
, and A
Republic Not An Empire
. His latest book is Churchill,
Hitler, and the Unnecessary War
. See his
website
.

The
Best of Patrick J. Buchanan

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