- The Washington Times - Monday, April 10, 2006

On the budget deficit, the Republican Party in the House has evolved during the 12 years it has been in power. Flash back to 1994. A constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget was the first item in the 10-point Contract with America, the governing blueprint Republican House candidates offered voters, and resulted in Republican control of both bodies of Congress. In the heady days of January 1995, 228 of 230 House Republicans voted for the balanced-budget amendment. (The measure eventually died in the Senate.) With fiscal 1995 federal spending reaching $1.5 trillion and the 1995 budget deficit totaling $164 billion, the constitutional amendment stipulated that it “shall take effect beginning with fiscal year 2002.”

Fast forward to April 2006. Last week, the Republican leadership, unable to corral enough votes to pass a fiscal 2007 budget resolution, had to pull the measure from the floor to avoid an embarrassing defeat. Worth noting is the fact that fiscal 2007 spending will total at least $2.8 trillion, 87 percent above the 1995 spending level. Meanwhile, the projected deficit in the 2007 resolution was $348 billion, a lowball estimate given the resolution’s likely inadequate funding ($50 billion) for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Some House Republicans might argue that the balanced-budget amendment that their caucus embraced in 1995 would have allowed Congress, by a majority vote in each body, to “waive the provisions” for any fiscal year “in which the United States is engaged in military conflict.” In addition, Congress could waive the balanced-budget requirement for any year if “three-fifths of the whole number of each House of Congress shall provide by law for a specific excess of outlays over receipts.” Regarding the “military conflict” clause, it is true that military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq have cost nearly $400 billion, including the pending supplemental appropriation for 2006, since fiscal 2002 (the original date for the balanced-budget amendment to become effective). It is also true, however, that cumulative budget deficits (2002-06) will total $1.7 trillion, or $1.3 trillion above total war costs. Thus, above and beyond spending for Iraq and Afghanistan, the Republican-controlled Congress and the Bush White House have generated average annual deficits (2002-06) exceeding $250 billion.

Based on the Republican rhetoric in the House preceding the Jan. 26, 1995, vote in which more than 99 percent of the Republican caucus voted for a balanced-budget amendment, these 2002-06 budget-deficit figures aren’t what most party faithful would have expected in the 12th year following the Republican revolution of 1994 and the sixth year of a Republican White House. That’s especially true given the $236 billion budget surplus that was achieved in 2000.

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