If President Bush wants an idea of what he's up against as he seeks to refund some of the overpayments taxpayers have been making to government, he should look across the Potomac at the dilemma now facing Virginia Republican Governor Jim Gilmore.
Gilmore enjoys a Republican majority in the legislature. In fact, Republicans hold all statewide offices. Yet Gilmore has called the legislature into special session to help him keep his promise to eliminate the hated car tax on the first $20,000 of a vehicle's assessed value by next year. Legislators have yet to approve a 70 percent rebate scheduled for this year (it was 47.5 percent last year) because they have become bogged down over the budget and are debating where to makeup the "lost" revenue.
Squeezing our money out of politicians is more difficult than squeezing blood from a turnip. To paraphrase an Oscar Hammerstein love song, once they have found a way to take our money, they never let it go.
Gilmore has issued an executive order for state agencies to cut spending by as much as 15 percent to close the gap between income and outgo. Like their federal brethren in Washington, most Virginia legislators rarely speak of cutting spending, only whether government can "afford" a tax cut. All politicians know how to play the manipulation game to keep their power base from eroding.
Recall the shutdown of the federal government in the mid-'90s. Was there a debate about what programs were unnecessary and could be cut to reduce the size and cost of government? There was not. Instead, the previous administration shut down popular tourist spots and threatened to curtail Social Security checks and cut off other essential services.
If politicians are forced to take less of our money, their power will be diminished. While much of the public will come to see that as a good thing, politicians do not share this view. They fear the public will find them as unessential as employees who are told they don't have to report to work when it snows.
President Bush might consider history as he argues for his tax cut plan.
James Smith was a patriot from Massachusetts. As his state debated the ratification of the Constitution, Smith said, "It is a general maxim that all governments find a use for as much money as they can raise. Indeed, they have commonly demands for more...I take this as a settled truth, that they will all spend as much as their revenue; that is, will live up to their income."
Thomas Jefferson did not want the cost of the federal government to exceed the level of revenue from import taxes. How quaint such a notion seems today as Congress practices unsafe and promiscuous spending.
A more contemporary Massachusetts politician said, "The collection of taxes which are not absolutely required, which do not beyond reasonable doubt contribute to the public welfare, is only a species of legalized larceny. The wise and correct course to follow in taxation is not to destroy those who have already secured success, but to create conditions under which everyone will have a better chance to be successful."
This same man, when he was governor of Massachusetts, also said, "As I went about with my father, when he collected taxes, I knew that when taxes were laid someone had to work hard to earn the money to pay them."
One more comment from this Vice President and then President: "No matter what anyone may say about making the rich and the corporations pay taxes, in the end they come out of the people who toil." These quotes are found in Peter Hannaford's new book, "The Quotable Calvin Coolidge" (Images from the Past, Inc., 2000).
If only in our entitlement generation we had such wisdom and insight from these men of the 18th and 20th centuries. Gov. Gilmore and President Bush will need their help if they are to succeed in cutting the government beast down to size and return a portion of the money taken from the people who have been feeding it more than it needs.