The U.S. Senate last week behaved like a drunk who testifies at a temperance meeting that he has seen the evil of his ways and vows to become sober but then, on his way home, yields to temptation while passing a saloon, goes in and gets plastered.
Fearful that President Bush's proposed $726 billion (over 10 years) tax cut would allow taxpayers to keep too much of their own money, "moderate" Republican senators joined most Democrats to halve the president's proposed tax reduction on the pretext that there is a war to pay for and a "large" tax break is unaffordable at this time. If senators had taken the temperance pledge when it comes to spending, one might conclude they had finally seen the light and their "testimony" could seem credible. But, alas, most of our elected tax-and-spenders cannot resist the temptation to spend more, and so they make sure we have less. Republican congressional leaders promise to restore as much of the rejected tax cuts as they can when the Senate and House confer on final details, but don't look for the "moderates" to be persuaded and, thus, the final bill is more likely to resemble the Senate version.
While positioning themselves as guardians of the nation's financial security, many members of Congress are, in fact, hitting the spending bottle with all of the gusto of a confirmed and unrepentant drunk.
Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) will release on April 9 its annual "Pig Book," detailing some of the most outrageous, unnecessary and annoying examples of government misspending. It will include such gems as $500,000 to the Bureau of Land Management for Idaho weed control; $400,000 for the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum; $283,000 to the Mystic Seaport for a "facilities and conversion project" of the American Maritime Education and Research Center; $250,000 for Family Communications, Inc. to implement a National Preschool Anger Management project in Iowa (how about something to help taxpayers manage their anger for spending on something like this?); $180,000 for Forum Francophone des Affairs to facilitate exports to French-speaking markets in Maine (given American attitudes toward the French these days, this one ought to have been cut faster than butter melts on a hot croissant, which some Americans are boycotting); and $90,000 for the Carving Studio in West Rutland, Vt., for "building renovations."
According to CAGW, the proposed current budget represents a $20.1 billion increase in pork barrel over fiscal 2002. If affordability is the primary concern, this Congress should emulate the World War II Congress and reduce, not increase, spending. According to CAGW researchers, between 1939 and 1942, non-defense spending was cut by 22 percent. During the Korean War (between 1950 and 1951), non-defense discretionary spending fell 25 percent. In the Vietnam War, President Johnson tried to produce "guns and butter." He dramatically increased domestic and defense spending. He lost the war in Vietnam and started an inflationary war on our wallets.
Taxpayers, especially this close to April 15, should be asking Congress why it can't "afford" to let us keep more of the money we earn, but never asks whether we can "afford" unnecessary expenditures on the Cowgirl Hall of Fame and the National Peanut Festival. Congress should be required to take the lead when it speaks of "fiscal responsibility" and deficits.
The correct approach to deficits is not to tax people more (or refuse them a larger tax cut), but to spend less and allow those who make the money to be the primary determiners of how and where to spend or invest their own money. Government's main contribution to a robust economy occurs when it takes less of our money and allows us to keep more. The cost of the war to liberate Iraq could be partially offset by a more responsible and temperate approach to spending. Congress has created the deficit, because it spends too much, not because we're taxed too little. Why don't they go on the wagon?
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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