Republicans have made some political hay in recent years by accusing Democrats of being the tax-and-spend party. Ronald Reagan rode into town on a dual platform of cutting taxes and reducing spending, along with the size of government. He managed to reduce taxes but he failed to slay the spending beast.
The last Republican-dominated Congress behaved more like the party of FDR than the party of Ronald Reagan. The Department of Education, which Reagan pledged to eliminate, had its budget increased 17 percent by a Republican Congress, which added $2 billion more than what President Clinton had requested. According to Stephen Moore, of the Cato Institute, the Department of Education budget increased faster since 1996 than any previous four-year period in its relatively brief history.
In addition, programs conservative Republicans love to hate enjoyed budget increases. These included The National Endowment for the Arts, The Legal Services Corp., corporate welfare and bilingual education. "You name a worthless liberal social program and chances are its budget went up," says an exasperated Moore.
Moore says the 106th Congress spent more money on social programs than any Congress since the late '70s when Jimmy Carter was President and Tip O'Neill was Speaker of the House. Too many Republicans have joined Democrats as co-equal partners in a single government party. Many of the more than 200 programs that Republicans promised to eliminate in the 1995 "Contract With America" now have larger budgets than before Republicans took control of Congress.
Congress has given reprieves to many programs condemned to political death row. These range from farm subsidies (up 162 percent) and AmeriCorps (up 248 percent) to bilingual education (up 80 percent) and the Goals 2000 education program (up 112 percent).
Apparently, Republicans never recovered from the government shutdowns engineered by the Clinton Administration for which the GOP, and then-Speaker Newt Gingrich received blame. So, rather than reduce spending, they've increased it, in the false hope that this will give them cover from the "mean-spiritedness" charges Democrats and their media pals used with such great effectiveness.
No wonder there are so many doubters about President-elect Bush's tax cut plan. Detractors seem credible when Bush talks of reducing taxes and they warn of the danger of new deficits. The response to this charge is to do what Democrats failed to do in the Reagan and Bush years. Having agreed to tax cuts under Reagan, Congressional Democrats refused to live up to the other part of the deal and curtail or reduce spending. That's how deficits are created.
Bush needs to appoint the equivalent of another Grace Commission, which listed scores of wasteful, outmoded and unworkable federal programs that could be eliminated with little effect on anyone except the taxpayers, who would save money.
Democrats once railed against wasteful spending when it suited their political needs. Former Wisconsin Democratic Sen. William Proxmire's "Golden Fleece" award was a devastating indictment of government waste which everybody understood. Democrats used expensive toilet seats to win debating points about what they saw as a too high Pentagon budget.
Illustrations like this should work for Republicans but they must first decide whether they wish to return to their fiscally conservative roots or behave like drunken sailors spending someone else's money.
Since Republicans took over Congress in 1994, total nondefense domestic spending has steadily increased, with the exception of 1996 when it declined by a measly $9 billion from $259 billion the previous year, according to the Office of Management and Budget. The fiscal 2000 nondefense domestic spending budget is a record $284 billion. Given recent Republican congressional behavior, it is likely to go even higher.
During the campaign, President-elect Bush warned what happens when money is left in Washington. "It gets spent," he said. That is why he should take the lead, not only in cutting taxes but also in targeting agencies and programs for budget reductions and elimination. This twin approach is the only way to maintain a healthy economy. But in the age of a supposed surplus, Republicans are reluctant to talk about spending cuts. They are squandering more than money. They are squandering their political and our economic future.