- The Washington Times - Friday, October 20, 2000

With Congress finally set to adjourn, the Washington pundits are blasting the "do-nothing" Republican Congress. Wall Street Journal writer Al Hunt recently wrote a scathing column on the GOP's legislative record, titled: "The Sorry 106th." Mr. Hunt seethes that "this has been one of the pettiest, most irrelevant sessions full of cheap shots and expensive pet projects while brushing aside big issues."

What the press is missing in all this is that in this sizzling economy there's a lot to be said for do-nothingism and gridlock. "When you're in the groove economically," says economist Arthur Laffer, "you want to stay in the groove. The Less Congress does, the better." Ray Keating of the Small Business Survival Committee has shown that, over the past 20 years or so, the economy tends to do better the fewer laws Congress passes.

Economist Jim Bianco of Arbor Trading Co. has looked at the evidence over the past several decades and he documents that the stock market performs more than twice as well when the Congress is out of session and isn't regulating, taxing, spending or engaging in other meddlesome activities that erase wealth.

In Washington, "do-nothingism" is defined as refusing to pass the Democratic legislative wish list. So the failure to enact a Medicare prescription drug benefit, campaign finance "reform" legislation, a health care bill of rights (really "the trial lawyers' bill of rights" ) a minimum wage increase, and day care subsidies is disparaged as a sign of the GOP Congress' ineffectiveness. A strong case can be made that the greatest virtue of the Republican Congress over the past six years has been its judicious inaction on Bill Clinton's most economically destructive ideas notwithstanding the unsightly election-eve spending spree that funded many of Bill Clinton's budgetary priorities.

But the charge that the Republicans in Congress have done nothing productive this year is contradicted by examining their legislative track record. The Republicans in the House and Senate have passed a slate of impressive and pro-growth bills this year, despite their razor-thin five-seat majority. Here's a list of the accomplishments:

Repeal of the Social Security earnings test imposed against seniors who continue to work after they reach the age of 65.

Phaseout of the unfair death tax over 10 years.

Passage of the free trade agreement with China.

Marriage penalty elimination.

Sunsetting the IRS tax code.

Telephone tax repeal.

Banking reform.

The largest budget surplus in American history.

That's a lot of activity for a "do-nothing Congress." None of this is regarded as of much consequence to the national media, because most of those in the chattering class don't favor these changes. It's a very peculiar double-standard in Washington that failure to enact a new multibillion-dollar entitlement for Medicare is denounced as a sign of "do-nothingism," but passage of a bill to eliminate the death tax, the most despised and unfair levy in the entire IRS code, is greeted with a ho-hum.

Bill Clinton, of course, vetoed the death tax and marriage penalty relief. Where are the howls of protest from the media about White House obstructionism?

Republicans can and should run on their record of accomplishment. Despite the recent doldrums in the stock market, the Dow-Jones has nearly tripled from 3,600 to 10,500 since November 1994 when the GOP seized control of both houses. Interest rates have fallen by more than 100 basis points since then. More than half a trillion of national debt has been erased. In six years the GOP has cut the capital gains tax, approved two major free trade agreements, reformed welfare, balanced the budget and brought government spending down from 22 percent to 20 percent of gross domestic product.

If Republicans hold on to Congress and win the White House in November, they will almost certainly abolish the death tax, cut income tax rates, begin the process of converting Social Security into a system of private retirement accounts, and expand school choice options for tens of thousands of families across the nation. All those initiatives could have enormously positive effects on the American economy. This stands in stark contrast to Al Gore's own activist agenda the Kyoto treaty, the Microsoft antitrust case, a carte-blanche for trial lawyers to skim the cream off every successful industry, and at least three new social welfare entitlements which could hardly be more economically wrong-directional.

Alas, Al hunt is right about one thing: There has been a pork fest on Capitol Hill of late. My dreary prediction is that federal spending may actually rise faster if Republicans control the White House and Congress than it has under the Clinton years.

In fact, if there is any complaint about the Republicans in Congress, it is not that they did nothing. It is that they did too much.

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