- The Washington Times - Monday, July 15, 2002

With the White House announcement Friday predicting that this year's budget deficit will reach $165 billion, politicians faced an agonizing quandary: Do they keep demagoguing the corporate and accounting problems, or do they abruptly switch to demagoguing the deficit issue? Of course, neither the Democrats nor the Republicans, neither Congress nor the White House, is serious about reducing the deficit.
Under the circumstances, they are probably right not to be too serious. The economy is soft, we have a war to fight, interest rates are low, and by historical standards, even a $200 billion deficit is a relatively modest percentage of GDP. Nobody is worried about public debt driving out private borrowing. To be serious about significantly reducing the deficit this year, a party or branch of government would actually have to submit a budget that cut spending. The last time that happened was in 1995, when congressional Republicans, led by House Speaker Newt Gingrich, actually bit the bullet. They actually cut then-current appropriations by over $50 billion in one fiscal year.
An appalled nation never forgave them for their act of fiscal responsibility, and both political parties relearned the lesson of the prior 55 years: Political parties spend not cut their way into the mushy hearts of the voters. After 1997, the budget was balanced, not because of spending cuts (or even restraints), but because the private sector produced such vast wealth that tax revenues came in literally faster than the cut-chastened government could spend it. This year, the White House has done its part in needlessly increasing the deficit particularly by signing into law the extravagantly over-funded agriculture bill and multibillion-dollar highway projects but they have otherwise foregone obvious political advantage by calling for only 2 percent increases in non-defense discretionary spending. It is fair to say that this year while the President and his team are not deficit reducers, they are also not massive deficit increasers.
But, listening over the weekend to Congressmen and Senators (and need it be said, particularly wild-spending Democrats) berating the President for the growing deficit this year, this page believes that if that act could be turned into a sitcom, it would be the laugh hit of the season.
Leading the parade of absurdities was the venerable Sen. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, who was outraged by the Office of Management and Budget's threatened veto of a $30 billion supplemental appropriation bill for military and homeland defense. The Senate was $1.5 billion over the White House's last compromise level, which itself was several billion dollars over the original Administration request. Mr. Byrd accused the director of the OMB of "maiming" the appropriations process. We suppose the Senator has a point if not the one he intended. When one pricks the Senate appropriations process, it does bleed red ink. Let it bleed.
While there are many measures of political insincerity regarding deficit spending, a useful guide is the chosen approach to the eminently demagogable prescription drug proposals. The White House came in with a modest $190 billion dollar program. Ascending the insincerity ladder, the House Republicans offered up a princely $340 billion program. But the House Democratic leadership reached the top of the ladder with an imperial $850 billion proposal. This must surely constitute the largest sum of human wealth ever proposed to be spent by any group for anything in the history of our species.
There ought to be a law debarring any politician making such deficit-expanding proposals from ever uttering charges of budget-busting at his fellow politicians. In the absence of such a law, this page will note, from time to time, the names of particularly free-spending lawmakers.

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