understand the House Republicans' budget "revolution," pay careful
attention to this number: $55 billion. That's the amount federal
spending will increase next year. A year later, according to their
plan, the budget ticks up another $38.1 billion. It goes up an average
of $45 billion every year thereafter.
talk of "slashing" the budget, "killing" programs, "saving" money,
"eliminating" the deficit, and "cutting" government. But in the
end, what happens? The budget goes up. Republican control of the
power of the purse, as with the Democrats, means the power to spend
more of our money.
to the $1.6 trillion question: how many people outside the Beltway
think the federal government needs to spend more money? The answer
is precious few.
don't the Republicans claim to be making real cuts, not just cuts
in future increases? In places they are. But what matters to taxpayers
is the overall budget. Specific programs may or may not be cut (show
us!). But overall spending is still the best way to measure government
growth. If it continues to climb, we've got a problem.
programs the Republicans are allegedly cutting aren't being cut
at all. Medicare is a good example. It is scheduled for a one-year
increase of $10.5 billion, then an average growth rate of 5.4% forever.
Liberals are wailing, while the Republicans accuse the Democrats
of accusing the Republicans of cutting Medicare. Heaven forbid that
the Democrats would accuse the Republicans of doing the right thing.
entered a new era of Congress, and that apparently requires a new
vocabulary to hide what is actually going on. The new word for the
new era is: "savings." The Senate plan for the budget has "savings"
of $1.1 trillion. The House plan has a "savings" of 1.4 trillion.
notice. That's "savings" over previously scheduled future increases
for the next seven years. Why limit the time frame? Why not project
until the year 3000, and claim a "savings" of $1 quadzillion?
say your family budget is in the red. You've got a ne'er-do-well
son who gambles. Last year, he lost $20,000. This year, he wants
$30,000 to lose. You agree on $25,000. Are you "saving" money? Of
shouldn't talk about budget savings (or any phrase that suggests
fiscal sanity) until they have cut current spending levels. Otherwise,
we'll suffer budgetspeak forever.
claim, of course, is that the Republicans will eliminate the deficit at
some distant date in the future. Seven years? Come on. Seven years
is the time between Bush's no-new-taxes pledge and Clinton's attack
on talk radio. It's forever in D.C.
slight recession would blow up the plan's economic assumptions,
which rely on the "Rosy Scenario" of yesteryear: that interest payments
on the debt will decline as the deficit declines. But this autopilot
theory of budgeting has never worked. It made laughing stocks of
the Reagan administration and its economists.
for the actual cuts in the plan in energy, agriculture, and foreign
affairs they are, as they say, "back-loaded." The proposed cuts
get more dramatic the further they are in the future. Between 1996
and 1997, for example, the plan suggests cuts of only $200 million
in farm subsidies. Suddenly, in the year 2001, that part of the
budget is butchered by $2 billion.
might as well pass a plan to abolish HUD, the IRS, and even itself in
the year 2050. It's equally credible to claim credit now for supposed
cuts six years away. As a friend of mine says, "Hey, everyone, throw
me a party: I'm going to stop drinking and smoking next year."
Congress can't bind the next Congress. There will be a new plan
next year and the year after. Congress can't budget for any year
other than this one. Everything else is political fiction.
Congress and every president claims to have had a plan to eliminate
the deficit later. The rest of us are supposed to act like greyhounds
chasing a mechanical rabbit. Sorry, but it's just not believable
anymore. What matters is what is actually done, here and now.
are terrible and need to be eliminated on grounds that they lead
to inflation or higher taxes or both, and to massive instability.
If the public funds government debt, private investment is crowded
out and interest rates are driven higher than they need to be.
deficits are not all that's harmful. Government spending itself
causes economic damage. Whether it's welfare or subsidies, foreign
aid or foreign meddling, the economy suffers.
dime the government spends siphons resources from the private economy.
Deficit reduction is only an unalloyed good if the government's
share of national wealth is on the decline.
why Congress should reduce spending in a time frame it can actually
control. Republicans should revisit the budget, and approve only
those items that have a Constitutional justification.
purely partisan reasons, the Republicans should begin by repealing
the spending increases of the Clinton presidency. That would require
immediate cuts of $150 billion. But it would be both too simple
and too radical for Washington to accept.
we're supposed to play the game called Congressional Budget. The
Republicans pretend to cut, the Democrats pretend to suffer, and
the media plead for the victims of the heartless penny-pinchers
up to the freshmen to turn the game board over. They weren't elected
to vote for more spending. The freshmen should tell the party leadership
that they refuse to support any level of overall spending higher
than when they took office.
said last year that the main test of politicians is whether they
spend more or less this year than last. If they spend more, they're
part of the problem, and should be treated as such.