- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 21, 2000

Giving the American people a tax cut during an election year is politically appealing to lawmakers. On the other hand, cutting spending on popular programs isn't. Logic would dictate that lawmakers are faced with a choice. Last week, though, legislators on the House Budget Committee came up with a budget plan that allows them to cut taxes and increase spending at least on paper.

The committee's plan breaks the spending caps Congress passed into law in 1997. Overall, the committee proposes an increase of public spending of 3 percent, to $1.85 trillion. About two-thirds of the budget would go to Social Security, Medicare, interest payments on the national debt and other commitments. The other one-third of the budget, which allocates resources for everything from Head Start to the FBI, would rise by about 3 percent to $596.5 billion. Military spending would get the lion's share of the increase, rising 6 percent to $307.3 billion.

"They've chosen to spend faster than inflation, faster than [gross domestic product] growth, and if you spend the money it will not be there," said Lawrence Lindsey, chief economic adviser to presidential candidate George W. Bush.

At the same time, the proposal would also provide for $150 billion in tax cuts over five years a moderate figure. Committee Chairman John Kasich, Republican from Ohio, also held out the hope that an extra $100 billion could go to tax cuts during that period. Interestingly, though, the budget postpones fiscal austerity. The committee grants only $10 billion in tax relief in fiscal year 2001. For example, the committee said that its budget "includes room for the recently passed Marriage Tax Penalty Relief Act of 2000," but that tax cut wouldn't kick in until 2003 and would not take full effect until 2008. In addition, the committee's plan would provide for small business and educational assistance tax cuts as well as tax cuts associated with the patients rights bill and a death tax phase-out.

All the same, the committee's plan demonstrates more restraint than the president's, which included an increase next year of 7 percent in domestic appropriations. President Bill Clinton still tried to make lawmakers look like the profligate party, though. "Today, the Republican Congress took a first step on a risky budget that threatens to undermine the fiscal discipline that has lead to our current economic prosperity," said Mr. Clinton.

Despite Mr. Clinton's doomsday comments, there appears to be ample room for cutting public pork. According to a list compiled in accordance with the Federal Activities Inventory Reform Act, more than half of federal employees perform work that is not inherently governmental in nature, according to the very agencies by which they're employed. Only about 850,000 of 1.7 million federal employees, therefore, are doing work considered indispensable to the fundamental functions of government.

This type of data supports the case for tax cuts. The committee's proposal, however, offers minimal immediate tax relief and there is little reason to believe lawmakers will muster the backbone necessary for the $150 million in total cuts. This is all very unfortunate for presidential candidate George W. Bush, who has recommended a $483 million tax cut over five years starting in 2002. The committee's plan makes Mr. Bush's recommendation look like mere fancy, which it isn't. And it could hand the Democrats an issue, which they don't deserve.

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