- The Washington Times - Monday, September 11, 2000

If you thought that the era of big government was over, take a look at the big spending plans being proposed by George W. Bush and Al Gore.

Mr. Bush has proposed new federal spending initiatives totaling $760 billion over the next 10 years everything from health care for the needy to prescription-drug benefits for the elderly.

The Texas governor's domestic spending proposals aimed at showing he is a compassionate conservative who would not throw the poor out into the cold would consume one-third of the government's $2.3 trillion on-budget surplus.

But Mr. Bush is a penny-pinching piker compared to Mr. Gore, who has proposed more than $2.7 trillion in new spending over the coming decade and he is just getting started.

Mr. Gore's record-breaking spending spree would not only squander all of the projected non-Social Security budget surplus, it would also leave taxpayers with a $500 billion deficit, according to a detailed budget tally by the National Taxpayers Union.

The differences between the two candidates are breathtaking.

While Mr. Bush would spend $138 billion more on federal aid to education, Mr. Gore would spend $412 billion. Where Mr. Bush would spend $86 billion on health care, Mr. Gore would spend $780 billion. Mr. Bush proposes spending $258 billion to reform and strengthen Medicare and offer prescription coverage to those who need it. Mr. Gore would spend $850 billion for near-universal coverage.

The question that begs to be answered is why the Bush campaign has not gone after Mr. Gore tooth and nail as an irresponsible big spender. These are spending proposals that would make the Great Society's War on Poverty spending binge look conservative by comparison.

Mr. Bush, on the other hand, had been relatively tight-fisted with most of his spending initiatives, with the exception of a few big domestic issues that top the polls: health care, education and Medicare. Until his big drug-prescription proposal, Mr. Bush's spending plans had been somewhat tame.

He knows he cannot outbid Mr. Gore and the Democrats, who are willing to promise any amount of money to the special interests to beat him.

But clearly Mr. Gore is vulnerable to the charge he proposing a major expansion of government above and beyond anything that has ever been proposed in a presidential campaign. This is the mindset of a 1960s-style liberal who believes government is the answer to every problem. It isn't.

Listen to what a Senate Budget Committee study had to say last week about Mr. Gore's big spending plans: "The vice president thinks government should grow. He thinks government should be universal in its reach into the lives of all Americans. And finally he believes future generations should be left to fund Social Security and Medicare."

Instead of finding market-oriented ways to lift a crushing $22 trillion Social Security liability off the shoulders of future taxpayers (as Mr. Bush's investment retirement accounts would do), Mr. Gore wants to boost benefits by $100 billion to $180 billion. Moreover, he shoves the long-term solvency problem into the future when the Baby Boomers will have to be paid off with increased debt and taxation by a shrinking ratio of workers to beneficiaries.

Instead of finding marketplace ways to offer private health insurance plans that can provide drug prescription coverage and better health care (as Mr. Bush would do), Mr. Gore proposes that Medicare despite its looming insolvency take on major new entitlement burdens.

The fact of the matter is that the government under Mr. Clinton and Mr. Gore is still spending like there's no tomorrow. The federal budget stood at $1.4 trillion when the Clinton administration took over in 1993. Since then, the budget has mushroomed to nearly $1.8 trillion.

The Congressional Budget Office projects that over the coming decade the federal budget will climb to nearly $2.5 trillion just by keeping up with inflation. But under Mr. Gore's big spending proposals, that number is going to go through the roof.

At least Mr. Bush includes some big budget savings and bigger tax-cutting proposals that would significantly offset his new spending plans.

He would, for example, give back $1.3 trillion in taxes in the form of lower income-tax rates and by doubling the $500-per-child tax credit. He has proposed a program of agency consolidation and waste-cutting that would save $176 billion over 10 years. And his Social Security investment plan would be the equivalent of an $800 billion tax cut for America's workers.

Mr. Gore, on the other hand, likes the higher tax rates right where they are now. And he doesn't mind the trickle-down 1 percent to 2 percent or even negative returns that workers get from their regressive payroll taxes.

What he does not like are present government spending levels, which he would boost by trillions of dollars more, betting that today's voters are much more favorably inclined toward bigger social-welfare spending.

Liberal, wasteful, big spenders have been a major target of Republican presidential candidates in the past, and with much success. But George W. Bush appears strangely reluctant to go after Al Gore on this score. That may explain why his campaign has been sagging lately and seems to have lost its energy and drive not to mention a central, galvanizing message.

Donald Lambro, chief political correspondent of The Washington Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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