When President Bush returns to Washington, he'll face a carefully planned ambush by Democrats who will repeat their successful strategy of striking fear into the hearts of the uninformed.
Congressional and party Democrats will accuse the Bush administration and Republicans of robbing Social Security and Medicare in order to pay for the tax cut. That Democrats have done what they accuse Republicans of doing won't stop them, but the president can return fire if he refuses to play their game and uses different ammunition.
Step one in a Bush counterstrategy should be to lay off his pledge to set a different tone in Washington and focus on changing policy. Being nice has not persuaded Democrat lions to lie down with Republican lambs. The "tone" has never been the problem in Washington. Too many chicken-hearted and go-along Republicans have been the problem. They've been afraid to defend what they claim to believe for fear certain groups or editorial pages won't like them.
The president can adopt a Reagan-like approach to debating his political opponents by saying, "our friends in the other party..." and then proceeding to criticize their policies and record. Reagan consistently skewered Democrats with this line without anyone thinking he was mean.
Step two is for President Bush to take on waste, fraud and abuse in government in a serious way. This means he not only will have to criticize Democrats, he'll have to challenge spenders in his own party. What Reagan did for The Heritage Foundation think tank elevating it to national prominence President Bush could do for Citizens Against Government Waste, a nonprofit organization as likely to attack wasteful Republican spending as wasteful Democrat spending.
CAGW has calculated that during the next five years, the federal government will lose at least $1.2 trillion in uncorrected waste, fraud and abuse. While Democrats plead for more of our tax dollars, President Bush can provide numerous examples of the misspending of the tax dollars government already has.
CAGW has given its "Porker of the Month" award to House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt. Gephardt has the dubious distinction of being opposed to tax cuts when the economy was prospering and now when the economy is sputtering. During the boom times, he said we didn't need a tax cut. Now he says we can't afford one. Clearly, Gephardt never saw a dollar he didn't think government could spend better than the people who earned it.
On "Meet the Press" last Sunday, Gephardt said he could support "minor" spending cuts even in domestic programs, including "education (and) health care." A leading Democrat is not about to touch his party's bread-and-butter issues. It isn't "mean-spirited" or returning to the "old tone" of Washington to mention Gephardt's voting record and inconsistencies on these issues.
President Bush should make Gephardt a primary target of his counter-strategy. It was Gephardt who led the charge in 1993 to increase taxes on income and gasoline. Yet he would maintain our dependence on foreign oil by opposing safe exploration for new energy on U.S. land.
Just cutting the improper and duplicate (and sometimes triplicate or more) payments made by government agencies could save at least $20 billion annually, according to CAGW. Corporate welfare costs taxpayers $65 billion a year. It costs nearly $500 billion to comply with the tax code. Regulation adds $1.4 trillion. Should the federal government pay for a "Dr. Seuss" memorial in Massachusetts? Such projects are projected to top $20 billion this year alone and have cost taxpayers more than $120 billion in the last decade. Total discretionary spending increased by 11 percent in fiscal 2000 and 8 percent in 2001. This occurred when Republicans controlled Congress.
Controlling people's money and their lives is what the Democratic Party stands for. If it loses control, it ceases any reason for being. Republicans will have to decide whether they want to immobilize the Democrats or play along with their spending game just to preserve themselves in office.
President Bush should focus less on tone and more on the good policy and good politics of attacking waste, fraud and abuse. His counter-strategy can play better than the old Democrat fear strategy which has worked only because Republicans were too timid to counteract it.