- The Washington Times - Monday, February 7, 2000

Clinton budget, DOA

President Clinton clearly has changed his mind. Given the deluge of spending initiatives flowing from the White House, it's obvious he no longer believes that "the era of big government is over." If Congress still believes it's over, nothing it could do this year is more important than blocking the major domestic spending initiatives and program expansions the president's budget is proposing. In short, Congress ought to stamp Mr. Clinton's budget is DOA, "dead on arrival."

Then it ought to get to work passing legislation that clearly deals with the needs of the nation. Tax reduction and budget discipline should be at the top of the agenda; other legislative priorities include national security, education and health-care reform, trade expansion and partial-birth abortion.

Without the votes to override the president's certain veto of a multifaceted tax-reduction bill comparable to last year's 10-year, $792 billion plan, the House has decided this year to offer the president at least three separate tax-cut bills addressing popular issues. The first would reduce, though not eliminate, the marriage penalty, which forces millions of married couples to pay about $1,500 per year more in income taxes than they would pay if they lived together unmarried. The second tax-cut initiative would significantly expand tax-free savings accounts for education. The third would provide tax incentives to encourage urban and rural community redevelopment projects.

There is no reason why additional tax cuts cannot be passed in this manner, including an expansion of the 15-percent tax bracket. Congress should also make permanent the three-year moratorium it placed in 1998 on state sales taxes for purchases made over the Internet.

On the national security front, the Senate must resist any effort to resurrect the fatally flawed Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which was overwhelmingly rejected last year. As missile technology proliferates among rogue regimes from Iraq to North Korea, ballistic missile defense is necessary now more than ever. Congress should also fully fund the F-22 fighter.

Since both bodies of Congress passed Patients Bill of Rights legislation last year, a compromise version is likely to emerge from a House-Senate conference committee. A bill tilting toward the demands of Democrats and their paymasters, the trial lawyers, who want to do to health-insurance premiums what they have done to malpractice insurance, would be disastrous. Meanwhile, now that the pharmaceutical industry has proposed subsidized Medicare coverage for prescription drugs perhaps to fend off proposals for outright price controls on the drugs from the administration Congress must beware passing laws that invite, however unwittingly, soaring costs of the kind that afflict the rest of the Medicare program.

No foreign aid program has ever helped developing nations more than opening the U.S. market to their exports. Welcoming the textile exports from Africa and the Caribbean basin is critical to the prospects for economic progress in these regions. Granting Mr. Clinton and his successor fast-track authority to negotiate trade deals around the world should also be a priority.

While Mr. Clinton seems determined to expand the federal role in education, Congress should move in the opposite direction. Lawmakers should send federal funds to the states in the form of block grants, which, together with local communities, should be given far more discretion over how to use the money their residents have sent to the federal government. Reviving a plan to provide vouchers for District of Columbia students, who attend some of the nation's worst public schools in the shadow of the Capitol, would also be a battle well worth fighting.

None of these goals is impossible, although some are certainly less probable than others. By pursuing them successfully, Republicans can help ensure that the era of big government really is over, and they can help Mr. Clinton keep his promises in the process.

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