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EDITORIAL: The incurable spending bug

Beltway power brokers need to cut back

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Potomac fever has no remedy. Its primary symptom is an irresistible attraction to Washington's corridors of power. Those who fall prey to the malady, whether liberal or conservative, will do anything to stay in office. That usually means spending more of the public's money, which is why the budgetary thermometer is rising so fast it's about to burst.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., for example, is responsible for a big spike in spending. Last month, the purportedly conservative jurist sided with the liberal end of the bench to save Obamacare. According to a Congressional Budget Office report released Tuesday, the decision penned by Justice Roberts will cost taxpayers $1.7 trillion in spending and $514 billion in new taxes over the next decade. A balanced budget was obviously not on his mind.

Nor has it been for President Obama, who has boosted the national debt 50 percent since his inauguration. The former community organizer has borrowed more money in three-and-a-half years than President George W. Bush did in eight. Americans now owe $15.9 trillion.

In 2010, voters made it clear they didn't like Mr. Obama's "stimulus" spending spree and handed Republicans decisive control of the House. Unfortunately, not one dime has been cut since that election. Instead, outlays are up $24 billion so far this year. In large part, that's because the GOP majority has fallen into the deadly rhetorical trap of baseline math. This Washington gimmick enables public-sector unions to bemoan "draconian cuts" when the budget goes up, not down.

With only one chamber under Republican control, the only way to achieve a balanced budget is for the House to refuse to agree to spending bills and debt-ceiling increases. This step would exhaust Uncle Sam's coffers and send all non-essential government employees home. GOP leaders are afraid to do so after principled Republicans faced down President Bill Clinton's spending demands in 1995 with a shutdown lasting 28 days. The world didn't end, but you wouldn't know it from the breathless coverage on the television networks covering events carefully crafted by unions.

In the ensuing 1996 election, Mr. Clinton won 31 states, and House Republicans lost nine seats. The electoral message wasn't all bad, since Senate Republicans picked up two seats. Regardless of the political fallout, the shutdown paid off financially. The 1994 deficit of $203 billion vanished by 1998, and the nation enjoyed four years of surplus. It didn't take long for the good times to end. Red ink returned in 2001, with four straight years of $1.3 trillion deficits beginning in 2009.

The magnitude of this out-of-control government spending continues to gobble up an ever greater share of the nation's economic output, suffocating the private sector. The result is stagnation and unemployment levels that aren't going away unless elected and unelected leaders set aside concern for their place in the history books. Until America's leaders are willing to put their personal jobs on the line to save the nation from bankruptcy, the spending bug will remain incurable.

The Washington Times

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