March 25, 2006
By Michael Franc
Republicans on Capitol Hill have incurred scathing and
well-deserved criticism from all ideological quarters for their
recent embrace of Big Government.
The latest fiscal atrocity came on March 16th when the Senate
spiced up Budget Committee Chairman Judd Gregg's (R.-N.H.)
self-described "vanilla" budget plan by adding $16 billion in
additional spending for unspecified education, health and
A triumphal Sen. Arlen Specter (R.-Pa.), author of an amendment to
add $7 billion to health and education programs, exclaimed after
the overwhelming 73-27 vote (a majority of 28 Senate Republicans
supported Specter) that "The Republican Party is now principally
moderate, if not liberal."
When it comes to the size and scope of the federal government, the
veteran Pennsylvanian, alas, may be right. The question is,
One explanation is that the Republican leftward tilt comes at a
time when congressional Democrats have positioned themselves even
further to the left on spending issues. Republicans may believe
that conservative voters, despite their frustration, have no
realistic political alternative and will be forced to stick with
them on Election Day no matter how much more they spend.
Rhetorically, Senate Democrats appear to understand the scope of
the federal government's fiscal woes and the trade-offs that will
be required to address them. During the recent Senate floor debate
on the bill to raise the federal debt ceiling to $9 trillion,
Wisconsin maverick Russ Feingold said: "Every dollar we add to the
federal debt is another dollar that we are forcing our children to
pay back in higher taxes or fewer government benefits."
The senior Democrat on the Senate Budget Committee, Kent Conrad
(D.-N.D.), summed up the Republican fiscal philosophy as: "borrow
and spend, spend and borrow, put it off, put it on the charge card,
do not worry about it, tell the American people: you can have every
tax cut and every spending increase, and you do not have to pay for
anything." Democrats, he insisted, are different.
In fact, this fiscal rage prompted every Senate Democrat to vote
against raising the debt ceiling.
It would be entirely fair for someone listening to these speeches
to conclude that the modern Democratic Party is dominated by a
bunch of dour budget scolds who want to balance the budget,
preferably with tax increases, and look askance at any new proposal
to increase federal spending.
Well, get out the smelling salts, because what transpired shortly
after the Senate agreed to increase the debt ceiling can only be
described as a budgetary feeding frenzy.
A parade of Democratic senators, and Sen. Specter, took to the
floor and offered amendment after amendment seeking to add billions
to Sen. Gregg's vanilla budget resolution. In all, 18 such
amendments were voted on, almost entirely along partisan lines.
Only two passed, including Specter's. Taken as a whole, they
reflect the Democratic Party's collective judgment as to what next
year's budget should look like. That vision, alas, bears no
resemblance to the tough fiscal rhetoric that preceded it.
In total, these amendments would have increased spending next year
by nearly $75 billion and by $374 billion over five years. Most of
this proposed spending would have been accompanied by unspecified
tax increases on individuals with incomes over $1 million, on
corporations, and through more efficient collection of taxes
Where have profligate Republicans fallen short? According to Sen.
Teddy Kennedy (D.-Mass.), we must add $6.3 billion to federal
education programs to restore nonexistent cuts. Sen. Jeff Bingaman
(D.-N.M.) wants an additional $4 billion for pork-barrel energy
programs. Michigan's Debbie Stabenow wants to turn veterans' health
programs into yet another federal entitlement at a five-year cost
of $104 billion.
And so on. Evidently, the only difference between Democrats and
Republicans is that Democrats believe in "tax, spend and
The fiscal pressure arising from the retirements of the Baby
Boomers has already convinced budget experts of all ideological
stripes that we should focus on reining in spending (especially
through structural reforms to entitlement programs like Medicare
and Social Security) and reforming our tax code to maximize both
economic growth and revenue.
Proposing hundreds of billions in new federal spending and higher
taxes moments after delivering serious critiques of our fiscal
straits is reckless and makes even the most liberal Republican look
downright frugal by comparison. This is enabling behavior of the
Fiscal conservatives are justified in wondering if anyone in
Washington really gets it.
Mike Franc, who
has held a number of positions on Capitol Hill, is vice president
of Government Relations at The Heritage Foundation.
First appeared in Human Events Online
Republicans on Capitol Hill have incurred scathing and well-deserved criticism from all ideological quarters for their recent embrace of Big Government.
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