- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 5, 2001

Only in Washington are train wrecks announced months in advance. In the rest of the world, when a train wreck is planned in advance, it is called sabotage. In Washington, it's called the budget process. Last weekend Democratic presidential aspirant Sen. John Kerry intoned on "Meet the Press" that: "We will have a major confrontation over the appropriation process … and we will have a monumental battle in a few weeks over the subject of education and the other budget priorities … we're going to have a great deal of difficulty avoiding a train wreck."

Actually, it will take a real effort to cause a train wreck. Out of an approximate $2 trillion federal budget, the "monumental battle" and "major confrontation" will be over how much of President Bush's $18 billion increase in defense spending and the Democrat's $16 billion increase in education spending the two parties will agree to. Both parties want to increase both programs, but by different amounts. If they compromise on the higher number in each category, they would struggle to make even a 1 percent difference in aggregate from the president's proposals.

There are, of course, many smaller priority disputes: How much to increase energy tax credits, whether the Department of Housing and Urban Development's budget should get a few billion more, whether a prescription drug program (should Congress get around to passing it this fall) would cost $5 billion to $7 billion in the first year more or less. These are all dollar amounts that, by Washington practices, constitute petty cash discrepancies. One can move those kinds of sums by "rounding up" rather than "rounding down."

But the Democratic Party is building its grand strategy for its fall offensive with precisely these bits of twigs and string. And more than a few Republican players in town believe they are looking into the red abyss of hellfires as they contemplate the Democratic budget juggernaut.

For the Democratic plan to work, they must be able to simultaneously sustain three fraudulent propositions: First, that the two parties differ on how big a cut we need in the next fiscal year; second, that the two parties differ on what to do with the alleged Social Security Trust Fund surplus; and third, that the Democrats want to spend both more and less than the Republicans. If the Republicans can't knock down these absurdities they ought to retire as a professional political party.

First, consider the tax-cut fight. While it is true that a majority of Democrats would like to role back the Bush tax cuts in future years, not a single Democrat has come forward to propose raising taxes for the upcoming fiscal year. In fact, this spring the Democratic Party proposed $20 billion more in tax cuts for the first year than the final Bush tax cut.

Even the ultra-liberal Mr. Kerry said on "Meet the Press" that: "When you have a downturn in the economy, the last thing you do is raise taxes or cut spending. We shouldn't do either. We need to maintain a course that, hopefully, will stimulate the economy … you might even consider a capital gains tax cut." Those are not exactly fighting words against this year's Bush tax cut.

So, the first opportunity for Republicans is to repeat to Democrats about a million times "Yes, in the sweet by and by you will make changes, but this year you won't increase taxes a penny, not even on people making over $50,000, will you?"

Regarding the Social Security surplus, since both parties have made the same idiotic promise not to use any of that alleged surplus, every time the Democrats mention Mr. Bush tapping into the alleged surplus, Republicans should say, "We agree. Show us your total budget that is low enough to avoid that without raising taxes which you refuse to do."

This brings us to the most daring component of the Democratic strategy. They have to convince the public that they are spending substantially more than Mr. Bush on all the popular programs, but are in fact spending less overall.

In order to accomplish this trick, they will propose spending and re-spending all of Mr. Bush's measly $18 billion national defense increase. They will spend almost all of it just on their proposed $16 billion education increase. They will spend it again on prescription drugs. They will spend it again on housing and medical programs. They will spend it yet again on agricultural transfer payments and scientific research and emergency aid.

That $18 billion military will be spent on $100 billion worth of Democratic promises to the public. And, keep in mind that Sen. Carl Levin, Democratic chairman of the Armed Services Committee, while he disagrees with the president's defense budget regarding $3 billion for missile defense, wants to spend more than the president on procurement, operations and maintenance, flying hours, tank training and science and technology. In other words, the Democrats want to spend more, tax the same and not touch Social Security.

The Democrats want to play hide the pea. The Republicans should play pin the tail on the donkey.

E-mail: tonyblankley@erols.com

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