- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 10, 2000

House Republicans recently announced that when it comes to the upcoming budget negotiations with the White House, they are willing to meet Bill Clinton "more than half way." GOP leaders are so terrified of another government shutdown that no White House spending demand will be refused, no matter how fiscally reckless.

Sound familiar? This was the same blunderous negotiating tactic that nearly cost Republicans the House in November 1998. In those midterm elections, the Republicans' predicted 20-30 seat pick up in the House melted away into losses. Why? The anti-big government agenda was abandoned and conservative voters stayed home.

Republican leaders have already begun to capitulate to the Clinton leftist agenda. The minimum wage will be raised for almost no meaningful concessions on the part of the Democrats. There is also talk of pre-emptive political surrender on a lousy and costly health care "bill of rights" agenda that will mostly benefit trial lawyers and will only add to the cost of medical care in the United States. Expect beefy increases in the budgets for the National Endowment for the Arts, the Legal Services Corp., Goals 2000, and the Education Department. Even the Internal Revenue Service is slated for a big budget boost. The House leadership now says they are worried about the adverse political ramifications of failing to enact a prescription drug benefit. So we may get a new multibillion-dollar entitlement on Election Eve as well.

What's going on here? There's certainly a strong case for closing down congressional business as quickly as possible in the weeks ahead. A short session would give incumbent Republicans plenty of time to go back to their districts and campaign. But if they give away the store this fall, the question becomes: Campaign on what? Republicans can't win this November if they seem to favor of buying voters a Volkswagen when the Democrats want the public to have a Lexus.

Almost one-half trillion dollars has been larded onto the budget since the Republican "Contract with America" days. Bill Clinton and Al Gore have instigated most of this spurt in government spending. Yet over the past three years Republicans have actually spent some $25 billion more on social programs than the White House originally requested; this year Congress may outspend the Clinton-Gore team yet again. In fact, a just released study by my colleague Steve Slivinski and me, finds that the 106th Congress is on pace to raise social spending by more money in real terms than any Congress since the late 1970s when Jimmy Carter occupied the Oval Office.

Back in 1995, Republicans vowed to end the kinds of counterproductive social programs that have been rotting in the budget in some cases for decades. Back then the future lifespan of the National Endowment for the Arts, education funding, the school lunch program, and TV shows like "Sesame Street" on public broadcasting seemed seriously in doubt. But not only have almost all of these programs been issued a new lease on life; most are prospering as never before. Since 1996 not a single federal program of any fiscal consequence has actually been eliminated. Not one.

The Education Department budget has soared by more than 35 percent since 1996. That's the biggest four-year increase in the department since Jimmy Carter created it as a favor to the teachers' unions. It will grow by another 5-10 percent this year. Not only that, Republicans now list funding of education programs beyond even Bill Clinton's requests as one of their "accomplishments."

The federal government has become a cluttered closet full of obsolete agencies started in the New Deal and the Great Society but never tossed away. The voters need to be reminded of all the inept ways that Washington is spending their money. One of the few GOP stars here is Rep. Pete Hoekstra, Michigan Republican, who publishes a monthly Tale of Bureaucracy with easily digestible horror stories of how Washington is misspending our tax dollars. Mr. Hoekstra's reports show that most federal agencies cannot pass a simply audit a requirement for all private firms and that dozens of agencies have tens of billions of tax dollars unaccounted for by the bureau heads.

Republicans should not retreat from the budget battlefield. They should fight Bill Clinton, Al Gore and Dick Gephardt on the budget over every extra dollar they want to spend. We're approaching a $2 trillion federal budget. How much is enough? Republicans can't win in November if they have surrendered the claim of being the anti-big government party. They can win if they define Al Gore Democrats as the enemies of continued prosperity and balanced budgets.

If "compassionate conservative" Republicans try to match dollar for dollar Democrat spending initiatives, Messrs. Gephardt and Daschle will continuously ratchet up their demands in any fiscal bidding war. This is as futile an exercise as Wiley Coyote trying to blow up the Road Runner. It never happens. We already see the White House and congressional Democrats becoming more intransigent in their demands with the weak-kneed Republicans.

Funding the left wing's wish list of federal priorities is no way to persuade American workers that Republicans deserve to retain their jobs this November. When Republicans have won their most resounding victories the 1980 and 1994 elections come to mind the party ran on an unflinching anti-nanny state platform. It's true that after years of prosperity and rising incomes Americans have grown more ambivalent about big government. But ambivalence should not be confused with support. Right now congressional Republicans are behaving as if they will accept a budget deal with Bill Clinton at any price. But be warned: That cost may be an Al Gore White House and a Dick Gephardt speakership. That's far too high a price to pay.

Stephen Moore is president of the Club for Growth.

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