- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 9, 2005

A blunt critique being released today by the Heritage Foundation says President Bush and the Republicans have too often pushed big spending programs, contrary to their campaign promises, made again in 2004, to move the government in a more conservative direction.

In a surprisingly critical assessment of Mr. Bush’s policies and programs of the past four years, the conservative think tank praised the president for strengthening national security and cutting taxes to promote economic growth.

But the report also took him to task for massive spending increases in Medicare entitlements, education and farm subsidies, and for imposing protectionist steel tariffs that hurt consumers and manufacturers.

Heritage President Edwin J. Feulner, who has been one of Mr. Bush’s staunchest supporters, said, “It remains to be seen whether the rhetoric of the campaign will be manifest in Washington in the coming years. Sadly, commitment to principle has been missing in Washington’s politics for quite some time now.

“Ronald Reagan’s summary of how the government thinks — ‘If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it’ — remains very much alive today,” Mr. Feulner said.

It was especially “disappointing … to see Congress pass, and the president sign, the biggest farm bill and the biggest education bill in our nation’s history, as well as the largest entitlement increase since Lyndon Johnson’s so-called Great Society,” he said.

Too many federal regulations were being imposed on the U.S. economy, which was ranked as the fourth-freest economy in 2000 and since has fallen into 10th place, he said.

Writing in the foundation’s “Mandate for Leadership” book, which presents a set of principles and proposals for the administration to follow over the next four years, Mr. Feulner and other senior Heritage analysts said Mr. Bush and the Republican Congress have “a mandate to roll back the welfare state,” but also expressed dismay over many of Mr. Bush’s actions in his first term.

The book credited Mr. Bush for taking “principled positions” in the campaign for free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values and a strong national defense that were “at the center of the election debate” and helped “swell public support for the president and for those lawmakers who embraced them.”

But in the book’s introduction, Stuart Butler, Heritage vice president for domestic and economic studies, and Larry Wortzel, vice president for international studies, said several of Mr. Bush’s legislative initiatives and executive actions “have been at odds with these principles.”

“The Medicare drug legislation, for instance, conflicted directly with the goal of limiting government and reducing entitlements, and instead piled trillions of dollars of new debt onto our children and grandchildren,” they said.

“Similarly, public diplomacy has been weak, and sound foreign policy initiatives have failed to win support from our allies because they were not accompanied by well-planned public diplomacy efforts,” Mr. Butler and Mr. Wortzel said.

“Observers can therefore be forgiven for concluding that Bill Clinton’s declaration that ‘The era of big government is over’ now seems rather premature,” they said.

“Mandate for Leadership” lays out principles and proposals in chapters that deal with the size and scope of the government, economic growth, terrorism, civil society, freedom and responsibility, national security, foreign policy and promoting free trade. Among its proposals:

• Federal budget caps that restrict spending increases to the inflation rate plus population growth.

• A commission appointed by Congress similar to the military base-closing commissions, to eliminate wasteful, outdated, duplicative and needless programs.

• A new judicial confirmation rule in the Senate that requires an up-or-down vote on each nominee within six months of nomination.

• A constitutional amendment “to preserve and protect marriage as a fundamental social institution and to protect it from activist judges.”

• A plan to let workers to invest some of their payroll taxes in Social Security personal retirement accounts.

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