Archive for Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Deficit a bipartisan failure

March 21, 2006


Not so long ago, in a country that now seems far, far away, Ronald Reagan told the nation, "we don't have deficits because people are taxed too little. We have deficits because big government spends too much."

He uttered those words in a year when Democrats controlled the House (the body in which spending legislation originates) and the national debt, according to the Bureau of Public Debt, was $2.3 trillion.

Last week, a Republican Senate voted to raise the debt ceiling to nearly $9 trillion. Senators quickly passed a record $2.8 trillion budget. What would Reagan say now? He said then, "the federal deficit is outrageous. For years I've asked that we stop pushing onto our children the excesses of our government." He called for a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution and labeled the budget process a "sorry spectacle." That Republicans are outspending the most reckless 1980s Democrat (and 1960s Great Society Democrats and 1940s FDR Democrats) is the sorriest spectacle of all.

The Senate vote increased the debt ceiling for the fourth time in five years. The statutory debt limit has now risen by more than $3 trillion since President Bush took office. That any Republican majority could preside over such fiscally irresponsible spending ought to be grounds for revoking their party membership.

This is mostly about politics, not terrorism. Republicans fear that only gobs of money will endear them to voters in sufficient numbers to re-elect their increasingly precarious majority. Why should Republicans be re-elected when one of the major reasons the GOP exists is to reduce the size and cost of government and free more people to do for themselves instead of restricting their liberties through costly and overreaching big government?

Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican, rightly blamed out-of-control spending on his colleagues' political nervousness: "They want to go and say they are helping people, but we are not helping people when we are selling out their future."

DeMint might have added that it doesn't help people to cause them to rely on and pay for ever-expanding government. Such a policy stifles initiative and personal responsibility and discourages incentive. It goes against the "Puritan ethic" that was one of America's foundational principles.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, observed, "This budget could be the final nail in our coffin if we don't watch it." Graham said Republican spending habits are demoralizing voters: "I don't think we properly understand the keys to our electoral success."

Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, defended spending an additional $7 billion for health and education programs, claiming those areas have lacked money in recent years. Is he kidding? The Bush administration has sired the biggest new entitlement program in history: a prescription drug benefit for the elderly. And let's not forget "No Child Left Behind," which massively increased federal education spending when there is no evidence of a connection between money and academic achievement.

Perhaps the real culprit is not Congress, but us. The Pew Research Center poll of March 14 found that only 55 percent of Americans rate the deficit as a "top priority." That contrasts with the 1990s when the deficit resonated more strongly with voters. As long as we are willing to take the money in exchange for our votes, politicians will give it to us. This must change, not only because we are in debt up to our eyeballs, but also because many of the note holders are, or might become, our enemies.

Means testing for all government programs and term limits for Congress are the answer to never-ending debt, but neither is likely to happen.

Reagan said his favorite president was Calvin Coolidge. In 1923, when Coolidge was vice president, he said, "After order and liberty, economy is one of the highest essentials of a free government."

Coolidge left the presidency with a surplus. So did Bill Clinton. That a Republican Congress and administration are engaging in such promiscuous spending is obscene. If voting in Democrats - who in the past engaged in deficit spending - punishes Republicans, little will change. What to do?

Maybe it's time for a strong third party, or failing that, another revolution.

Cal Thomas is a columnist for Tribune Media Services.


drewdun 12 years, 1 month ago

It's all about priorities - cut off millions of poor kids from Medicaid, or raise taxes on the top one percent of earners in this country.

And let's not forget that old Cal is being just a bit disingenuous in his canonization of the B movie star. Reagan spent like a drunken sailor, as it were, probably because he realized that in the modern society it is unthinkable, and extremely undesirable, to return to the days of unregulated laissez-faire economics and social Darwinism, where the richest one percent of the nation owned NINETY-PERCENT of the nation's wealth.

We have seen what our country would look like if the right truly had its way, and the result of the 'olden experiment' in strictly letting 'the markets' solve all of our woes is there for all history to see: the Great Depression. At that time, the vast majority realized that in the richest nation in the world, there has to be at least a minimal social 'safety net' for all citizens. That is why (most) Republicans will not vote against government social programs, as a vote against would demonstrate a vote against the popular will, which could in turn threaten their political careers, which we all know is the most important thing to all politicians regardless of partisan affiliation.

xenophonschild 12 years, 1 month ago

Many good points, drew. I always lead people back to the Greek city states (Thebes, Corinth, Athens, Argos, etc,) where oligarchies composed of the wealthy eventually controlled all the wealth and ground down the poor until the downtrodden revolted. Internecine class warfare destroyed many Greek city states and left them defenseless against Alexander.

The same, farfetched as it might seem, could happen here. With the Republicans pandering to the super-rich, and selling out the futures of middle-class children for two generations (national debt) at least, we may see the beginnings of class struggles in this country before we rest in the ground.

Just for entertainment, I'd like to add that, when I was a small boy, in the parking lot of the old A&P store in Leavenworth, my grandfather cracked a man in the teeth - dropped him like a sack of potatoes - because the man made disparaging remarks about Franklin Delano Roosevelt. God bless Democrats!

Godot 12 years, 1 month ago

The future of the next two generations of middle class children is to pay for the baby boomers' retirement and medical care.

Alyosha 12 years, 1 month ago

Wow -- sometimes Cal Thomas actually says things worth listening to.

Pilgrim, I'd respectfully suggest you misunderstand the need for a division between the secular and the religious-the division written into the Constitution in the First Amendment.

You needlessly infer that all Democrats are not religious, which is simply not true. Nor is it true that Democrats seek to "[kick] Him out of every place they go."

Do you really believe God to be so weak that any human being can kick him out of anything?

Healthy religous expression has no need of government. No human being has the right or the power to mediate my relationship to God. I certainly don't need the government to tell me what religious beliefs I must follow.

The Founding Fathers themselves wrote the Constitution without any mention of God, or Jesus, or Moses, or anyone else. That wasn't a mistake on their part. It was their intention. They had the opportunity, when writing the Constitution, to claim America for Jesus, or whomever else they might have wanted. And yet the did not. There's no erasing that historical fact.

We should follow the Founder's example.

As for deficits, Thomas is brave to remind his Republican readers that "Coolidge left the presidency with a surplus. So did Bill Clinton. That a Republican Congress and administration are engaging in such promiscuous spending is obscene."

xenophonschild 12 years, 1 month ago

Good on you, Alyosha. The future of the next two generations of Americans is to find 700 billion dollars - annually - to pay the interest on our national debt, a debt that has exploded under the "leadership" of Dubya and his cohorts.

We will also have to find a way to end the tyranny of the religious right in this country. If we wait long enough, maybe enough of them will die, perhaps the pilgrims and godots too. Hallelujah!

Godot 12 years, 1 month ago

If that wasn't a personal attack, I don't know what is....and in an argument I hadn't even entered.

I must be gettin' under its skin.

Back at ya, xenophobe.

Godot 12 years, 1 month ago

Just one question, xenophobe, why do you lump me in with the Christians? Do you just cubby hole all people who disagree with you in the same group to make it easier for you to hate them?

Alyosha 12 years, 1 month ago

"BTW, that should be "Him," not "him.""

Pilgrim, that perfectly encapsulates everything that's wrong and misguided in trying to combing law and religion, as explicitly forbidden by the First Amendment.

Do you really believe you have the right to dictate for other people how 'him' should be spelled?

Sorry to burst your bubble, but your beliefs about how I "should" capitalize the 'h' in 'him,' are completely irrelevant to my relationship to God.

What's next: passing a constitutional amendment saying I must follow your beliefs about capitalizing the 'h' in 'him'? Putting me in jail if I do not capitalize the 'h'?

You seem to believe your perspective is equal to God's -- even extending to knowing how 'him' should be spelled.

I, on the other hand, would never be so arrogant as to believe that I have a perfect understanding of God's will, or a perfect, God-like insight into God's own understanding.

Follow the Founders' example: when you have the opportunity, don't mix goverment and religion.

The Founders had the opportunity to mix government and religion and they explicity chose not to do so. (Go re-read the Constitution. You'll see with your own eyes.)

As Americans loyal to the Constitution, we should do the same, and not mix government and religion.

Or do you know something Jesus did not, who said, "My kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36)?

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