- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 18, 2005

HouseMajority LeaderTom DeLay’s remarks as reported in The Washington Times (“DeLay declares ‘victory’ in war on budget fat” September 13, 2005) are a clear sign that he fails to grasp the gravity of the nation’s fiscal situation and just how culpable he and his fellow Republicans are for gaping federal deficits.

Among the majority leader’s flatly wrong claims was that his party has achieved “ongoing victory” against bloated federal spending and that (as paraphrased by The Times) there is “simply no fat left to cut in the federal budget.” Mr. DeLay was responding to pressure from fiscal conservatives to find ways to offset the $62.3 billion that Congress has appropriated for Hurricane Katrina relief. By simply adding those costs — plus what could be billions more for additional supplemental spending bills this fall — the federal deficit is set to jump back up to at least the $400 billion range.

If Mr. DeLay actually believes what he said — that “after 11 years of Republican majority we’ve pared it [the federal budget] down pretty good” — then he has clearly lost touch with reality and Republicans must ask whether he is really the best person to continue leading their party. After all, total federal spending, aside from interest, has increased 79 percent since 1995 — much greater than the inflationary increase in prices of 28 percent.

There’s plenty of blame to go around for this alarming trend, but according to the National Taxpayers Union Foundation’s most recent VoteTally report, “The decision by the Congressional leadership not to allow votes on spending cut bills forced Members to try and cut spending through floor amendments — a much more difficult process.” How difficult? Of the hundreds of votes cast during the 108th Congress, House members considered just 32 amendments to reduce federal spending. Only four, worth a savings of $41 million, subsequently cleared their chamber — less than one one-thousandth of a percent of all federal outlays for that two-year period.

The budget has certainly not been “pared down” by the Republicans; rather, Republicans have dramatically increased the size of government to an extent not seen since Richard Nixon was in the White House. Republicans have lavished discretionary spending on agencies across the board (not just on defense and homeland security). But perhaps their worst offense is that in pandering to seniors prior to the 2004 election, the GOP Congressenacteda Medicare prescription-drug bill that adds trillions to unfunded liabilities.

If Mr. DeLay is being honest when he says he will consider offsets in order to pay for hurricane damage, he should start by asking each member to give up just one earmark apiece from the 6,371 “pork” projects in the recent highway bill. Such action may be unprecedented, but so was the bill itself, which employed dishonest tricks in order to keep the cost below the president’s veto threshold (namely, an $8.5 billion recission the last day the bill is in effect).

There are dozens of other programs and agencies that could be scaled back or eliminated in their entirety with some leadership from Republicans. The billions we spend annually on foreign aid that does little more than enrich corrupt foreign leaders, agriculture subsidies that give wealthy American commodity farmers an unfair advantage over impoverished farmers in the Third World and education spending that has grown faster than the military budget since September 11 are all prime targets.

Indeed, thousands of ideas for spending cuts and reforms have been put forth already. For instance, there’s theFlake-Blumenauer Amendment to this year’s Water Resources Development Act, which would have simply required the Army Corps of Engineers to prove that a new $1.8 billion lock system on the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers was economically necessary. Unfortunately, fierce opposition from House leadership — Mr. DeLay included — caused the amendment to receive a paltry 105 votes.

Fiscal conservatives, prominently among them the National Taxpayers Union, have offered a plethora of possible solutions that would address congressional profligacy. But the longer Republicans have held power, the more our suggestions have fallen upon deaf ears. Though it may be the case that Democrats would like to spend even more money than Republicans do, the fact is that it is hard to imagine government growing much faster under House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and company than it is now. Given the anger of the Republican base over Washington’s spending excesses of the past half decade, we may soon be able to put this question to the test.

John Berthoud is President of the National Taxpayers Union and the National Taxpayers Union Foundation.

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