When his personal approval ratings were far higher than they are now, President Bush might have succeeded in reducing the size and cost of government. Instead, he chose "compassionate conservatism" as his doctrine and big-government conservatism (which is a contradiction) as his calling.
Now the president, who has not vetoed a single bill in more than five years in office, wants Congress to give him line-item veto power. Lawmakers are unlikely to do so for the same reason a drunk might question the commitment of Alcoholics Anonymous if that organization were handing out free samples of liquor at its sobriety meetings.
"Too many bills passed by Congress include unnecessary spending," said the president in his message to Congress that accompanied his line-item veto request. But that unnecessary spending didn't begin this year. It's been going on for a long time. Even Bill Clinton vetoed 82 spending items, saving $2 billion over five years before an earlier line-item veto law was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. The Bush administration says the proposed new bill addresses the objections the court had in the previous measure.
The president might have more credibility on this if he had tried to stop unnecessary spending. Even if Congress had overridden his vetoes, he could still claim it as an issue. He can't now.
According to Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW), "The number of pork-barrel projects in the federal budget has skyrocketed from 1,439 in fiscal 1995 to 13,997 in fiscal 2005, an increase of 873 percent. Among the $27.3 billion of pork identified in the 2005 Congressional Pig Book were $6.3 million for wood utilization research and $2 million to buy back the USS Sequoia Presidential Yacht." If the president did not find this sort of outrageous misspending unnecessary, why should anyone believe he will veto other pork projects, known as earmarks, contained in future legislation?
Anyone who is outraged by out-of-control spending should get CAGW's 2006 Pig Book, which is scheduled for publication April 5, just days before our taxes are due. A preview can be found at www.cagw.org.
There are some with more credibility on this issue than President Bush. They include Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., who is chairman of the House Republican Study Committee, and Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, who chairs the RSC's Budget and Spending Taskforce. They announced on Wednesday their intention to introduce a balanced budget consistent with promises made in the 1994 Contract with America, which helped Republicans gain a House majority for the first time in four decades.
The conservatives' budget would go far beyond anything President Bush intends. They estimate it would save $350 billion on Medicare, Medicaid and other skyrocketing social programs. Another $300 billion in savings would come from a complete restructuring of the departments of Education, Commerce and Energy. The ultimate restructuring would be to get rid of all three of them, especially Education and Energy, but since that is unlikely to happen, a restructuring that reduces unnecessary personnel and eliminates waste, fraud and abuse would at least show that Republicans are returning to their ideological roots of smaller government, less spending and lower taxes.
Pence says, "With record deficits and debt, the time has come to level with the American people; we are not living within our means." The time hasn't just come. It has expired. If Republicans don't stop the unnecessary spending now, when they control all three branches of government, how will they contrast themselves from Democrats and appeal to voters to elect Republicans instead of members of the other party?
Proof that there is eternal life is a government program. Once born, a government program is nearly impossible to kill. That's mostly because politicians are spending our money and not their own. Competing constituencies endlessly argue for increasingly larger shares of the pot when they should be told in many more instances to get their own pot and fill it with the results of their initiative and labor.
There is another problem. Too many people want too much from government and are unwilling to do more for themselves. Politicians from both parties know this. Unless people demand less, they will get more spending and eventually higher taxes, or greater debt to foreign powers to pay for it all.
- Cal Thomas is a columnist for Tribune Media Services.