Don't carve the conservative tombstone yet

Posted: Nov 17, 2006 12:01 AM
Don't carve the conservative tombstone yet

The recent elections have already generated plenty of (incorrect) media reports about the death of conservatism. Jonathan Alter of Newsweek, for example, says “the Conservative Era is over.”

Well, maybe not.

The Washington Post reported Nov. 11 that “Democratic leaders this week vowed to make the alternative minimum tax a centerpiece of next year’s budget debate.” Dems have apparently discovered the AMT “threatens to unfairly increase tax bills for millions of middle-class families by the end of the decade.” Welcome to Washington, tax-cutting Democrats.

The AMT requires taxpayers to do their taxes twice, once with deductions and once without, and pay whichever tax bill is higher. That’s hardly fair. Rep. Charlie Rangel, the man who will chair the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee next year, says he wants to repeal the AMT, even though doing so would reduce federal revenue. “We’ll have to pay for it, and it’s a big monster to do,” he told Bloomberg before the election. “It’s a lousy policy to make a mistake and to keep the policy because it’s expensive.”

There’s just a bit of hypocrisy here. In a Feb. 16, 2004 cover story, Businessweek magazine noted that the AMT was anything but “a mistake,” as Rangel put it. Even as they passed the Bush tax cuts in 2001 and 2003, lawmakers knew they’d get billions back via the AMT. “It was deliberate,” John Buckley, Democratic tax counsel to the Ways and Means Committee, told the magazine. “It was conscious.”

Businessweek adds that the AMT was originally “aimed at 155 people.” That’s what’s truly ridiculous. Just as lawmakers shouldn’t pass earmarks aimed at helping a particular small group, they shouldn’t pass tax bills aimed at punishing a particular small group, either. So, as a tax-cutting conservative, I’d be happy to see both the AMT and the pork-barrel projects go.

Alter disagrees, at least on spending. “There’s a reason [conservatives] abandoned budget balancing: it’s a loser politically,” the columnist writes. “There just aren’t many votes in it, and that’s why Republicans didn’t cut spending. People want the government to deliver for them.”

Well, let’s consider what group the Democrats aim to deliver for.

The AMT’s “impact is harshest on taxpayers with annual incomes of $100,000 to $500,000,” the Nov. 11 Post story insisted. “The truly rich typically are not affected.” Reading that, it’s easy to wonder exactly how much the paper pays its staff writers. Only 1.5 percent of all households make more than $250,000 a year, so if somebody making $400,000 isn’t “truly rich,” nobody is. We should eliminate the AMT, while also preserving (and making permanent) the Bush tax cuts that have helped grow our economy. We can do that by doing exactly what the outgoing Republican congress didn’t do: cut spending.

Lawmakers could start by repealing the Medicare prescription-drug plan. That would save some $2 trillion in the years ahead. And if they’d just hold the growth of new spending to 3.3 percent per year, they’d save an additional $4 trillion over the next 10 years. It can be done.

When they insist that conservatism is yesterday’s news, journalists demonstrate they’ve missed the real secret of this election: Democrats took power by running a lot of conservative candidates.

Think of the Senate, where they’ll owe their control to Jim Webb, a former Reagan administration cabinet secretary. He’s pro-Second Amendment. When Sen. Pat Leahy wants to squelch a Bush judicial nominee, will Webb quietly go along, or will he insist the nominee deserves a vote before the full Senate? That’s the sort of question few journalists seem to have asked yet.

The problem is that journalists often write without a sense of history or their own past actions.

For example, on Nov. 3 both the Post and USA Today featured front-page stories about how the oceans will run out of fish by the year 2048. CNN also covered that story. Except, we’re not going to run out of fish. As CNN reported exactly a week later, fish farming is becoming big business. Already, those raised in captivity cost about half as much as the ones caught in the wild. As the number of fish in the deep blue sea declines, the number of farms will increase, so we’ll never run out.

Clearly, incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi can’t claim credit for today’s 4.4 percent unemployment. But once Congress is in Democratic hands, we can (finally) expect to see plenty of press coverage of the “booming economy.” When that happens, remember that the country got here because of conservative policies, and that keeping those policies in place is the only way we’ll remain prosperous. No matter which party’s in power, conservatism is alive and well.