- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Prayers and wailing for redeeming budgetary discipline are so pervasive among Democrats in Congress these days that it appears the party has undergone a collective fiscal conversion. Red ink is now the fuel used to burn big-spending apostates at the stake, and grieving over the size of the federal deficits is the new Democratic orthodoxy.

Did the party find fiscal religion, or is this the political equivalent of witch trials for Republican policies? Like the language of any subculture, their rhetoric requires translation. Democrats talk a lot about the budget deficit these days, but listen carefully to their words. It’s hard to tell by reading their lips because they offer few concrete specifics, but their pleas for fiscal sanctification are code words for an older Democrat orthodoxy — raising taxes. Democrats will have a chance in the next several weeks to put their mouths where the money is and stop hiding behind procedural and process rhetoric muddying their true intentions. Next week Republicans in the House will propose a detailed budget amendment to address new fiscal realities — the Democrats need one, too.

In his recent appearance on “Meet the Press,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois offered only rhetoric. He proposed “a summit on the budget to deal with the $3 trillion of debt that has been added up in five years and structural deficits of $400 billion a year.” Hmm, “budget summit” with Democratic leaders in the House? Republicans might need to use the prescription-drug benefit to get some anti-flashback medication. 1990 was 15 years ago, but the lessons of raising taxes — after a budget summit — are still fresh in their minds.

Budget summits are a kind of process mumbo-jumbo Democrats love to propose to shirk tough choices or clear alternatives. Democrats will insist on putting tax increases on the table as a price of admission — a non-starter with Republicans.

House Republican leaders distributed a plan last Thursday night to address the new realities of the deficit in a post-Katrina Congress. In a memo sent to all GOP House members, the leadership committed to specific principles underlying a midsession budget amendment — the first time since 1977 that lawmakers will use such a procedure — aimed at cutting federal spending.

The memo proposes boosting mandatory savings from $35 billion already approved in the fiscal year 2006 congressional budget resolution to at least $50 billion. It also promises a dollar-for-dollar offset of any new mandatory spending for disasters, an across-the-board cut in fiscal year 2006 discretionary spending and rescissions in previously appropriated funds. Finally, it proposes permanently “de-authorizing” programs eliminated for one year in the fiscal year 2006 appropriations bills, meaning continued savings year after year.

Republicans also plan to continue to oppose tax increases by not letting previous cuts expire. And for those interested in budget red ink, that’s even better news. While not widely reported in the media, and despite Democrats’ dire fiscal protestations, the Congressional Budget Office said last week that the federal budget deficit for fiscal year 2005 (which ended September 30) was nearly $100 billion less than the year before and $14 billion less than CBO projected eight weeks ago.

CBO said the main reason for the better-than-expected budget news was “increasing revenues” due to tax cuts. None of the new Democratic fiscal converts commented favorably on these pro-growth policies resulting in a $100 billion improvement in our fiscal health.

Instead, the Democratic response was more procedural speaking-in-tongues. House Democratic leaders proposed canceling the entire reconciliation process this year — a move that would cause taxes reduced in previous Congresses set to expire this year to snap back to higher levels.

So, not only do the Democrats avoid mentioning any specific alternative, but their procedural idea is a tax increase — eliminating the kind of fiscal policies that brought the much-needed improvement in the budget deficit Democrats say they want.

Democrats pay a lot of lip service to addressing the deficit. They should provide more than procedural excuses in the coming weeks. Unfortunately, the logical consequence of their ideas points to higher taxes, and while they may not say it clearly, we can read their lips. Their ideas will reverse the very policies that produced a $100 billion improvement in the deficit and sink an engine of economic growth like Salem’s Witches.

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