- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 3, 2000

One major reform seems to be missing from George W. Bush's reform-minded presidential campaign

cutting and eliminating wasteful, redundant and ineffective government programs.

Combating big government used to be a staple of Republican campaigns for the White House, but it doesn't seem to have much if any emphasis in Mr. Bush's campaign agenda. Instead, his "compassionate conservatism" has called for more government spending.

Fiscal analysts at the Heritage Foundation say that Mr. Bush's new spending proposals would expand the federal budget by about $200 billion in non-defense discretionary spending over the next 10 years.

Education would get the lion's share of the increases, about $11 billion more a year. Health care is next. Medical research alone would be doubled under Mr. Bush's budget plans. Spending at the National Institutes of Health would rise from $6 billion a year to more than $12 billion.

Still, says Heritage analyst Peter Sperry, these spending increases are relatively small compared with what Al Gore wants to spend. The National Taxpayers Union says that spending would balloon by $41 billion a year just from Mr. Gore's education proposals. In all, his new spending proposals would add nearly $1 trillion to the budget over 10 years.

But a closer examination of Mr. Bush's budget plans shows that his agenda contains some gigantic fiscally conservative reforms that would make his own spending initiatives pale by comparison.

In an era of mounting surpluses that will yield between $4 trillion and $5 trillion more than we need to run federal programs over the next 10 years, he thinks the most effective way to curb big government is to give a lot of this money back to the taxpayers who earned it.

Though it drew little attention in the hoopla of this week's convention, Mr. Bush's proposed tax cut package, including across-the-board reductions in the income tax rates, would turn back about $1.3 trillion in tax revenues to the taxpayers and the U.S. economy. By any comparison, that would be the largest movement of tax revenues out of Washington in U.S. history.

Then there is Mr. Bush's unprecedented partial privatization plan for Social Security. It, too, would for the first time shift a massive share of the federal budget from the government's control into the hands of private ownership. Millions of workers would for the first time own higher yield retirement accounts that would be fully invested in the economy in stocks and bonds.

All of this would make the private sector, whose gross domestic product now exceeds $10 trillion a year, substantially larger. It would also make the size of government as a share of GDP significantly smaller.

Those of us who have been crusading to reduce the size and the cost of government have not had many victories over the past 10 years. There was a discernible slowdown in spending increases after the Republicans took control of Congress in 1994. But in the last few years, there is no doubt that the spending restraints have been loosened and the amount of pork barrel spending is worse then ever.

Mr. Bush, however, has taken a very different policy approach in the federal spending battle. Instead of using his political capital in a protracted fight to abolish programs that can be restored by future administrations, he is focusing on macro-fiscal policies that would result in a massive shift of financial power out of Washington and into the hands of the people.

If he succeeds, he will have shifted trillions of dollars in federal tax resources back to the taxpayers and into savings, investment and business expansion and out of the hands of the bureaucrats and the big spenders.

This does not mean that he will not exert tight fiscal control over the government and restrain the appropriators, say his advisers. He will set spending priorities, they say.

Obviously, Mr. Bush intends to spend more on defense, health and education. But he also has reforms in the works to make government-wide changes in the way the it does business that will save taxpayers a lot of money, too: more privatization, more contracting out, more competitive bidding on contracts, and using New Economy technology and the Internet to lower the costs of delivering government services.

Most of the savings that he hopes to achieve will offset the increases he plans for education and health.

The point is that Mr. Bush's proposed spending increases will total in the billions, while his tax cuts and Social Security privatization plans will total in the trillions. That is a pretty good trade-off under any criteria.

Still, it would be good to see Mr. Bush declare loud and clear what most of the voters know and what they would clearly like to hear. That there is a lot of waste, duplication and needless spending in too many government programs and some prudent spending cuts are long overdue.

We have heard a lot about "compassionate conservatism" over the past week in Philadelphia. Now it would be good to hear a little more about limiting the growth of big government.



Donald Lambro, chief political correspondent of The Washington Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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