Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON -- President Bush has not received enough credit for one very important policy reform: the nearly $2 trillion in tax cuts he pushed through Congress in his first term.

It remains the centerpiece of Bush's domestic agenda and puts him in a league with Ronald Reagan, but, for some reason, his conservative critics tend to forget this when they begin carping and complaining about his fiscal record.

A bunch of them got together here the other day for a forum at the Cato Institute and launched an attack on everything they thought Bush had done wrong, charging he was not a conservative and had betrayed Republican fiscal principles.

I, too, have been critical of excessive spending, particularly the billions in pork-barrel expenditures. But I think Bush's $2 trillion in tax cuts over a 10-year period has to be factored into the spending equation, something his critics refuse to do.

There are several methods to curb the size and growth of government. Reining in spending bills is one way, but it is the most difficult to do politically, as we have found out over many decades of trying. It is a never-ending political battle that has to be fought and re-fought each year, often without much success.

Another way is to reduce the amount of money we give Congress to spend by cutting taxes, leaving a larger amount of the nation's income in the economy for savings, investment, consumption and growth.

I maintain that tax cuts, or a portion of them, are spending cuts, too. If Bush had not proposed and the Republican Congress not passed the tax cuts of 2001 and 2003, that money most assuredly would have been spent and squandered by our lawmakers.

But the spending spigot is endangered of being turned on full force if we let these tax cuts expire, as they are scheduled to do in 2011.

Bush is pushing hard to extend the reduced tax rates on capital gains and stock dividends (both cut to 15 percent), plus the reforms in the alternative minimum tax -- which was originally aimed at people who paid no taxes but is now increasingly hitting middle-income Americans. A bill to keep those rates in place is in a House-Senate conference, and it stands a good chance of passage this year.

But the big enchilada is the individual income-tax rates passed in 2001 that will revert back to their higher rates in 2011, effectively raising taxes on every American worker. Bush will be out of office at that time and his successor will have to deal with it, unless Bush can force an extension of these and other cuts before he leaves office.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.