Jewish World Review Oct. 1, 2002 / 25 Tishrei, 5763

Mona Charen

Mona Charen
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Consumer Reports

Kiss your money goodbye |
Never, never, never, (did I say never?) never believe the Democrats when they say that the country cannot "afford" a tax cut. That was the argument 18 months ago, when President Bush proposed to cut taxes, and with the passage of time we can see what a laugh it was to suggest that giving taxpayers back a small slice of their money would denude the federal treasury.

What has happened since passage of the tax cut that was called "enormous" and "gargantuan" is that federal spending has shot up -- not what you'd expect after the Treasury had been raided. As the Heritage Foundation calculates, the federal government is projected to increase federal spending by almost $800 billion in the 2000-2003 period. And they were wailing about decreasing taxes by $1.6 trillion over 10 years?

If this burst of new spending were a response to the war on terrorism, it would be understandable. But it isn't. Only about 20 percent of the new spending is defense-related. The rest is that animal we were not supposed to see for another generation or more -- discretionary spending.

Recall that during the deficit mania that gripped the nation during the election campaign of 1992, we were told that unless the deficit could be reduced or eliminated, Congress would be spending so much on entitlements and interest payments alone that discretionary spending would simply dry up. Instead, the economy expanded so rapidly and thoroughly during the 1990s that the deficit disappeared. And in the presence of a surplus, members of Congress did what came naturally -- they splurged. The current outlays mark the first time since 1967-70 when discretionary spending rose faster than entitlement spending.

President Bush had offered a budget that would have increased discretionary spending by 4 percent. But thanks to Sen. Tom Daschle and the Democrats, reports Stephen Moore of the Club for Growth, spending actually rose by 8 percent (excluding post-Sept. 11 increases in emergency spending).

Farm subsidies, which had actually been decreasing in the '90s, have gone up by 106 percent. Medicare and Medicaid received huge increases (of course), but so did other health programs like the National Institutes of Health and the State Children's Health Insurance Program. Federal payments for home loans got a 160 percent increase, and veterans programs received a 16 percent increase. Unemployment compensation rose by 50 percent, and air transportation subsidies by 46 percent.

And the education juggernaut seems unstoppable. Despite the total lack of evidence that increasing spending has any impact on academic performance, our ladies and gentlemen in the Congress seem unable to say no to any spending bill with the word "education" in it. (And you, gentle voter, are to blame, too, if you reject a political candidate because "Smith opposed more money for education.") Federal spending on education increased from $128 billion in the 1996-1999 period to $170 billion in the 2000-2003 period.

You can always page through the federal budget and find outrages aplenty. (Did you know that Sam Donaldson gets a mohair subsidy?) The trouble is that with the exception of a few professional budget-watchers, most Americans are unaware of the final destination of their tax dollars. Meanwhile, every beneficiary of federal largesse becomes an instant special interest, who lobbies hard to maintain and increase his share of federal booty.

And someone pays for it. If Congress had kept spending to its 1996-99 levels (adjusted for inflation), the average household would have had $5,000 more to spend on necessities. More important, the money Congress fritters away on spending is money that will not be available in case of emergencies. Congress never seems to appropriate money for foreseeable emergencies like hurricanes and other natural disasters. Neither has it shown any awareness of the need to provide a pool of funds to cope with unnatural emergencies like plagues, nuclear attacks or multiple bombings. Instead, while our attention has been focused on Osama bin Laden and other threats, our leaders have been shoveling the lard at favored constituencies -- and bloating the leviathan in Washington.

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© 2001, Creators Syndicate