- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 30, 2001

"It might be autumn everywhere else," White House Budget Director Mitchell E. Daniels Jr. observed in a recent speech, "but in Washington it's springtime for spenders."

Indeed, the recent availability of $40 billion in emergency funding had fostered "a flowering of creativity," Mr. Daniels said, triggering more than $120 billion in "helpful [spending] suggestions from Cabinet departments." And that didn't include the request by New York's congressional delegation for an additional $34 billion above and beyond the $20 billion in disaster assistance that has already been set aside as part of the $40 billion in emergency funding. Now, the Senate is considering a stimulus package that will incorporate far more spending than is appropriate. West Virginia Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd, the chairman of the Appropriations Committee who has used that perch in the past to cover his state with pork projects, is suspiciously proposing $20 billion in additional spending for domestic security. Sen. Edward Kennedy has offered a $71 billion "stimulus" package that is so unbalanced in favor of spending, including $10 billion for "public works," that the package's $300 "tax cut" for low-income workers is, in reality, a welfare transfer payment to those who already pay no income taxes. Senate Majority Whip Harry Reid is proposing to spend $27 billion on transportation projects.

In the face of the rising tide of unrestrained spending, Mr. Daniels is seeking to reorder federal spending priorities. Not only has he committed the White House to shooting down "opportunistic spending sorties" he also seeks to reduce or terminate the funding for some programs unrelated to fighting terrorism or improving national security. "Many lesser priorities will have to yield while we ensure that the essential functions of government are provided for," Mr. Daniels persuasively argued in his speech. Surprisingly, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, has echoed those sentiments. "There is no doubt that eventually [the additional spending to fight terrorism] will have to be offset," Mr. Daschle has acknowledged, adding, "We can't permanently commit to spending that can't be paid for." Nor should Congress ratchet up current spending levels, which have already been raised since the attack.

The first test for Mr. Daschle will come as the Senate crafts its version of the fiscal stimulus package. The House version, which narrowly passed last week in a 216-214 party-line vote, emphasizes tax relief, much of it confined to next year. The White House has also stated its preference for a temporary tax-cut package, which would balance the $40 billion of additional spending already enacted.

It is probably too much to expect the Democrat-controlled Senate to fashion a tax-based package that would add immediate stimulus, while at the same time excluding the excesses in the House bill, such as the indefensible 15-year, retroactive rebate to corporations that have paid the alternative minimum tax. Nevertheless, the outbreak of a veritable feeding frenzy in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks must be stopped dead in its tracks.

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