- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 1, 2005

Congress returns to work in a few days, which means unrestrained raiding of the public purse by wasteful and unnecessary spending will likely continue.

The National Taxpayers Union Foundation has compiled a useful report on the 108th Congress’ misspending. While most parents would not allow such free spending by their children in college, Congress spends with few restraints and with few complaints from those who earn the money.

This might be more understandable if Democrats ran the government, but overspending under Republican leadership is something like a virtue monitor succumbing to vice.

NTUF finds misspending is bad and getting worse. Excluding the growth in entitlement spending, not a single member of the 108th Congress had a net voting record that would have reduced overall outlays. Over the course of the Congress, the average House member supported $386.9 billion in additional net discretionary spending. That’s up from $192.3 billion during the 107th Congress (a 101 percent increase) and up 1,760 percent from the 105th Congress’ “miserly” $20.8 billion. Spending in the Senate is up 873 percent over the same period, according to NTUF calculations.

Congress seems to succumb to the attitude that if rape is inevitable, members should relax and enjoy it. In 2003, four attempts to reduce spending in various appropriations bills by a paltry 1 percent were defeated in the House. In 2004, three such amendments also lost.

Republicans now engage in behavior identical to that of the Democrats they used to criticize when that party ran the House for 40 years. The Republican leadership is less inclined to allow votes on bills to reduce spending, which is forcing those members still interested in protecting the public purse to attempt to cut spending by more difficult floor amendments.

NTUF data shows the bipartisanship of spending. Significant differences only appear among Senate Democrats and Republicans, but even there the “low” party (Republican) average was nearly half a trillion dollars.

The chairman of the House Budget Committee, Rep. Jim Nussle, Iowa Republican, sought to remind his party of its smaller-government, less-spending roots when he proposed a budget reform last year to cap discretionary spending. The bill was defeated by a substantial majority (146-268, with 72 Republicans voting against it).

The dirty and not-so-secret fact is unlimited spending cannot continue without higher taxes. The U.S. already is in hock to foreign powers, especially China, which could politically use our growing national deficits and debt against us.

It is not enough to cut taxes, which stimulates the economy in the short term. If spending is not similarly reduced, the economy eventually suffers. As Rep. Jeb Hensarling, Texas Republican, has said, “The deficit is a symptom; spending is the disease. And we have to do something about the disease.”

The great irony is that during the last presidential campaign, Democratic candidate John Kerry reversed course and argued for spending restraint: “When I say a cap on spending, I mean it. We will have to make real choices — and that includes priorities of my own.” President Bush, meanwhile, submitted an election budget “built on the sensible premise that government should grow no faster than the average increase in American family incomes of approximately 4 percent.”

That is the wrong formula. A Republican president and a Republican Congress should not be about controlling the rate of government growth. They should be about reducing the government’s size, cost, reach and influence.

Short of a massive turnaround by freestanding Republicans, taxpayers should lobby their representatives to reform the budgetary process and reduce spending. But they must also wean themselves from government programs and unnecessary “benefits,” or Congress will continue giving the public what it wants and what keeps the representatives in office.

Congress should also pass fundamental reform and move us from an income-based to a consumption-based tax system.

As the NTUF notes: “If taxpayers can see and feel the burden of government, it will be far easier to permanently control the growth in government spending and provide a platform for long-term economic growth.”

Cal Thomas is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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