- The Washington Times - Monday, September 25, 2000

Al Gore is aggressively outbidding George W. Bush in the contest over who can offer the most benefits to the most people. So far, it looks as if the voters are buying what Mr. Gore is selling.
Stripped of its other political dimensions and distractions, this may be the most disturbing development of all in the 2000 presidential election. If the polls are to be believed, a near-majority of voters appears to be saying they are ready and willing to vote for more federal benefits and programs, and thus for a lot more dependency on government.
That has set off alarm bells among Republican leaders in Congress, who fear they may be waging a losing battle against the Democrats in the fight against bigger government. Mr. Gore's long laundry list of more social welfare spending, driven by his class-warfare pitch against big corporations, seems to be working for him. And George W. Bush and the Republicans have not found a galvanizing offensive theme to effectively combat it.
"Gore and the Democrats in Congress are getting away with a simple message that is very attractive to the American people: More is better," said a confidential strategy memo to Republican leaders from Rep. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, the House Republican Conference's vice chairman of communications.
"They are frightening voters by suggesting that Bush and the Republicans won't spend enough, and countering all of our proposals by offering to spend more," a frustrated Mr. DeMint wrote.
"Their strategy is to say anything and promise everything. We need to respond with a simple message: Too much is dangerous," he said.
The nation is awash in high taxes and the government is engulfed in $5 trillion in public debt because of excessive entitlements. Mr. Gore's spending proposals would expand these federal entitlements exponentially for prescription drugs, Medicare expansion, increased health-care benefits and even local teachers' salaries.
And with it will come many more federal regulations and controls that "will hurt the economy, eliminate jobs and threaten Social Security, Medicare and our schools," he warns.
Mr. DeMint and others in the GOP leadership now gloomily wonder if the political tide is turning against them as a result of the aging of the electorate and growing demands for more federal handouts.
"What disturbs me most, even among Republicans, is that we're dealing with a different group of voters, who are receiving more from government, and are less likely to be concerned about the cost of government," Mr. DeMint told me. "Every day we lose more of our conservative constituency to this growing government dependency class."
Somehow, some way, he says, Mr. Bush and the Republicans must find a way to reach the bedrock, patriotic core of the American electorate and warn them against going down the road to dependency, toward which Mr. Gore is so willing and eager to lead the nation.
And the warnings are not just coming from partisan Republicans. Listen to what Carol Cox Wait, a top budget analyst who heads the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, has to say about what Mr. Gore is peddling and where it will lead us:
"These are very, very, very large spending increases. The vice president really has proposed a dramatic expansion in the role and cost of the federal government," she told me.
"There's really nothing like it until you go back to the spending programs of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society social-welfare spending," she said.
Mr. Gore's proposed spending would cost taxpayers nearly $1.4 trillion over the next 10 years, and that number could run $100 billion to $200 billion higher once all his special-interest subsidies and welfare benefits kick in, according to the committee's recent forecasts.
To put this number into some perspective, it took more than 200 years for the annual federal budget to reach $1 trillion by the 1980s. But Mr. Gore's spending increases alone would surpass that sum in about eight years.
Mr. Bush's new spending proposals, by contrast, are high enough. But they would total $784 billion over 10 years, or a little more than half of what Mr. Gore would spend.
Mrs. Wait's sharp criticisms of Mr. Gore's spending plans are especially significant, because her board of directors is made up of both Republicans and Democrats, including former Clinton White House chief of staff Leon Panetta.
"Everybody talks about the big risks in Bush's tax cuts and how they are going to eat up the surplus, but nobody talks about the big risks of Gore's spending proposals eating up the surplus," she said.
"If we had to choose between big spending and a big tax cut, we'd choose the latter, because our experience in the 1980s and early 1990s was that it was easier to raise taxes to reduce the deficit and balance the budget than it was to roll back popular spending programs," she said.
"And it's not just [the size of Mr. Gore's] spending alone" that worries her. "This is an expansion in the reach and scope of the federal government," she added forcefully.
I cannot believe a majority of Americans really wants the federal government to play a much larger role in their lives and become the source of all of their basic needs. But a majority may end up voting that way in this election if they do not hear a more compelling argument against it.Donald Lambro, chief political correspondent of The Washington Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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