- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 10, 2002

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's much-hyped speech last week contained most of the usual pre-September 11 Democratic rhetoric. President Bush's tax cuts not only favored the wealthy, they were unaffordable. They drained funds from the surplus, which has now been eliminated. And more spending on domestic programs, which Mr. Daschle dresses up as "homeland security," will now have to be cut or postponed or funded by "raiding the Social Security surplus."

For starters, "homeland security" is another phrase for national security, not the myriad of new social programs desired by Mr. Daschle. And this is an area where Bill Clinton, with Mr. Daschle's help, actually slashed spending. As a percentage of federal outlays, defense spending dropped from 19.8 percent in fiscal 1993 to 15.5 percent in fiscal 2000. To put this in perspective, as recently as fiscal 1970, defense outlays were 39.4 percent of federal outlays. Even this huge reallocation of resources to domestic programs doesn't satisfy Mr. Daschle's thirst for spending.

Mr. Daschle downplays the recession's effect on reducing the surplus, although it reduced this fiscal year's projected surplus of $330 billion by $220 billion. (For the record, the economic slowdown started in the last months of the Clinton administration.) There's also no doubt that the war on terrorism has contributed to reducing the projected surplus, but not much.

But the dramatic rise in overall government spending, ignored by Mr. Daschle, is a major factor in reducing the surplus. For example, comparing federal outlays in October and November of fiscal 2001 (last year's budget) with fiscal year 2002, government spending has increased (excluding net interest on public debt) by 19.9 percent. Medicare and Medicaid spending increased substantially 13.4 percent and 17.1 percent, respectively. Other nondefense programs from unemployment and education to airline subsidies are up by 31.7 percent. Social Security benefits also climbed 6.1 percent, giving the lie to Mr. Daschle's fear-mongering about Mr. Bush's tax cuts threatening Social Security recipients.

Moreover, in one recent week, Mr. Daschle proposed $100 billion in additional spending $75 billion more for farm subsidies, $15 billion to bail out the railroad retirement system and $15 billion for projects championed by Sen. Robert Byrd. Mr. Daschle will also introduce a prescription-drug entitlement this year, which would increase federal spending at least $200 billion over 10 years.

These proposed and actual appropriations come on top of $140 billion in spending increases over the past five years, in violation of congressional budgetary caps.

Still, Mr. Daschle claims Mr. Bush's tax cut, which goes "disproportionately to the most affluent," is the "biggest reason" for lower surpluses. He's wrong. The top marginal tax rate will be reduced from 39.6 percent to 35 percent, beginning in fiscal 2006. This has nothing to do with unmet fiscal 2002 revenue projections.

Despite all the hand-ringing about tax cuts, so far a mere $300 was returned to individual taxpayers and $600 to couples filing jointly totaling $40 billion. Several Democratic senators favored larger tax rebates. Mr. Daschle not only supported these rebates, he now wants to extend them to those who pay no income taxes.

Obviously, Mr. Daschle doesn't propose any significant spending reductions. Instead, he demands increased domestic spending. And as Sens. Dianne Feinstein and John Breaux made clear over the weekend, and Sens. Zell Miller, Mary Landrieu, Tim Johnson, Max Cleland and Jean Carnahan informed this newspaper, they have no intention of supporting a repeal of the Bush tax cut.

Moreover, Mr. Daschle offers no serious plan for increasing energy production, which is crucial to America's economic and national security. And he refuses to bring Mr. Bush's energy bill to the Senate floor where, once again, it would receive support from several of his Democratic colleagues. Meanwhile, the United States faces a future energy crisis that requires immediate action.

For example, the Defense Department consumes nearly 80 percent of the energy used by the federal government. Yet, 60 percent of America's petroleum supplies come from foreign countries (24 percent is imported from Persian Gulf countries, including 6 percent from Iraq) increasing to 64 percent by 2020. Our national security, let alone our economy, must not be captive to volatile and unreliable sources of energy. Keep in mind that in 1973, when only 36 percent of our supply was imported, OPEC was able to create an energy crisis here by cutting supply and driving up prices.

Nearly 70 percent of oil reserves and 50 percent of gas reserves are located on government lands. By 2020, U.S. oil and gas consumption will increase by more than 30 percent and 60 percent, respectively. A labyrinth of statutes, regulations and lawsuits have made access to these resources whether in the Alaska National Wildlife Reserve, the continental United States, or off the coasts of California and Florida extremely difficult and costly.

Furthermore, a major refinery hasn't been built in more than 20 years, the Environmental Protection Agency mandates a large variety of petroleum blends for different parts of the country, and more pipeline delivery systems are needed. The construction of power plants isn't keeping pace with electricity demand, which will increase by 45 percent in 2020. And there hasn't been a nuclear power plant licensed since 1979.

Mr. Daschle's agenda higher taxes and more spending whether the nation is at peace or war, and whether the federal budget is in surplus or deficit combined with his no-growth energy policies, is not America's agenda. In fact, he can't even persuade many in his own party to support it.

Rush Limbaugh is a nationally syndicated radio commentator.

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