JWR Jeff JacobyBen WattenbergRoger Simon
Mona CharenLinda Chavez

Paul Greenberg Larry ElderJonathan S. Tobin
Thomas SowellMUGGERWalter Williams
Don FederCal Thomas
Political Cartoons
Left, Right & Center

Jewish World Review / Oct. 30, 1998 /10 Mar-Cheshvan, 5759

Paul Greenberg

Paul Greenberg New budget, same swollen government

IT'S A CLOSE QUESTION: Which is more depressing --- this muddy, spiritless election season, or the elephantine budget that Congress and the president have just loaded onto the backs of already overtaxed American earners?

I say the federal budget, at least today. This year's is heavier'n a bucket of hog livers, and about as cheering. Social Security wasn't saved, and neither was the surplus. Maybe a third of this year's surplus -- billions and billions of it -- was handed out in great big servings of pork. It was labeled For Emergency Use Only in order to get around the spending limits set in last year's budget agreement.

The usual parade of horribles will soon be dug out of the federal budget and listed in the papers, and, don't worry, your state will probably will get its share. But waste is nothing to celebrate even if it happens where you are.

Wasn't a Republican Congress supposed to make a difference? A befuddled congressman from Nebraska named Chuck Hagel, a Republican who sounds thoroughly disillusioned with his party, and who should be, asked the most relevant question of the day: "Does a Republican Congress make any difference? Do we believe in anything? Can we lead?'' Answers: No, no, and not so as you could tell.

With the president waving still another government shutdown at a cowed Congress, the GOP caved in quietly, voting as much pork for its own districts as it could. To quote Missouri's John Ashcroft: "It is clear that these negotiations were merely another round of backroom bargaining over the terms of business as usual, in the form of high taxes and more spending.''

This could be just another Democratic Congress handing out the goodies and keeping taxes high. Whatever happened to that tax cut? American families may find themselves a little more hard pressed, but it's a great day for one fanciful government project after another.

There will be more job slots for teachers, but education may continue to decline. And highways will be built with such enthusiasm that states may decide to just let the feds build their roads for them --- instead of taking responsibility for themselves. The money will flow to, then through, and finally out of Washington. Yep, politics as usual.

Even those defending the budget -- like good ol' Bob Livingston, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee -- calls the process "ugly.'' Robert Byrd, the grand old man of the Senate who is only now beginning to enter his oratorical prime, said of this monstrous budget that no one is really willing to take responsibility for: "It is a creation without a mother or a father -- rather more like a Frankenstein creature -- a being patched together from old legislative parts that don't quite fit.'' And it could prove just as destructive as it eats up the surplus and leaves taxpayers without relief.

Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton will defend this budget, each with his own unconvincing rationalizations. Scores may dwindle, learning decline, standards erode, and the higher illiteracy flourish, but our president will talk about the great gains this budget will mean for education, which he tends to define only in terms of money spent.

And the speaker of the House, his party's chief handicap, will attack the Republicans' "perfectionist caucus'' -- especially those members of it with a shred of idealism left, the ones who thought they were coming to Washington to change things, to make government leaner, better and maybe even meaningful. (At least this Congress did manage to stop a little of the bleeding in this country's over-extended defenses.)

According to Newt Gingrich, none of this could be helped: "In a free society you have to have give-and-take. If we don't work together on the big issues, nothing gets done.'' This way, nothing can get done on a much grander scale at a lot more expense. The speaker's defense of democracy as basically trading favors at others' expense has a tired old sound about it. On the whole, I prefer Colonel Peron's exquisite description of the same basic transaction in the musical "Evita'': "One always picks the easy fight. One praises fools, one smothers light. One shifts from left to right. Politics: The art of the possible.''

The colonel's lines come to mind regularly these days -- every time someone explains that politics has nothing to do with principle, or law, or ethics, or morality, but is only, yes, The Art of the Possible. It's more like the art of the crass.


10/26/98: Of life on the old plantation -- and death in the Middle East
10/22/98: Starr Wars (CONT'D)
10/19/98:Another retreat: weakness invites aggression
10/16/98: Profile in courage
10/14/98: A new voice out of Arkansas
10/09/98: Gerald Ford, Mr. Fix-It?
10/07/98: Impeachment Journal: Dept. of Doublespeak
10/01/98: The new tradition
9/25/98: Mr. President, PLEASE don't resign
9/23/98: The demolition of meaning
9/18/98: So help us G-d; The nature of the crisis
9/17/98: First impressions: on reading the Starr Report
9/15/98: George Wallace: All the South in one man
9/10/98: Here comes the judge
9/07/98: Toward impeachment
9/03/98: The politics of impeachment
9/01/98: The eagle can still soar
8/28/98: Boris Yeltsin's mind: a riddle pickled in an enigma
8/26/98: Clinton agonistes, or: Twisting in the wind
8/25/98: The rise of the English murder
8/24/98: Confess and attack: Slick comes semi-clean
8/19/98: Little Rock perspectives
8/14/98: Department of deja vu
8/12/98: The French would understand
8/10/98: A fable: The Rat in the Corner
8/07/98: Welcome to the roaring 90s
8/06/98: No surprises dept. -- promotion denied
8/03/98: Quotes of and for the week: take your pick
7/29/98: A subpoena for the president:
so what else is new?
7/27/98: Forget about Bubba, it's time to investigate Reno
7/23/98: Ghosts on the roof, 1998
7/21/98: The new elegance
7/16/98: In defense of manners
7/13/98: Another day, another delay: what's missing from the scandal news
7/9/98:The language-wars continue
7/7/98:The new Detente
7/2/98: Bubba in Beijing: history does occur twice
6/30/98: Hurry back, Mr. President -- to freedom
6/24/98: When Clinton follows Quayle's lead
6/22/98: Independence Day, 2002
6/18/98: Adventures in poli-speke

©1998, Los Angeles Times Syndicate