One year and two weeks ago, the November revolution swept the Democrats out of power in Congress for the first time in 40 years. In so doing, the American people truly voted for change. Though economic issues were but one part of the new conservative mandate (for instance, not one pro-life incumbent lost, while several pro-choicers met defeat), they remain an important part.
Hence the faceoff of the past two weeks, which I will briefly summarize. (Information in this column comes from the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Times, USA Today, the Arizona Republic, The American Spectator, and the Arizona Red (a.k.a. Daily ) Star from Nov. 10 to Nov. 20.) Since Oct. 1, the government had been operating under a temporary spending bill in the absence of the new budget. Last week, it needed a new extension and an increase in its debt limit to stay in full operation, as the budget still had not passed Congress. President Clinton found both proposed bills unacceptable and vetoed them (despite 48 Democratic House votes), leading to the partial federal shutdown that ended Monday.
The shutdown ended essentially because Clinton finally gave in to the GOP's required commitment to a balanced budget in seven years. Though the new temporary agreement stipulates "adequate funding" for Clinton-backed federal programs like Medicaid, education, and the environment, this merely means a future debate over the meaning of "adequate." The solid provisions are for a balanced budget by 2002, using the more pessimistic forecast of the Congressional Budget Office as opposed to the Office of Management and Budget. These two tenets are a major Republican victory, as they were precisely what Clinton refused for weeks to accept.
The real battle, though, is yet to come. Having forced Clinton's acceptance of their timetable and their economic forecast, the GOP must now get the actual budget through. Here is an overview.
The GOP budget would cut taxes by $245 billion over seven years, including a $500-per-child credit for all families earning less than $110,000 a year. It commits to a balanced budget by 2002, cutting hundreds of Federal programs to get there. It will save $82 billion in welfare reform by 2002, ending the current socialist guarantee of support and turning many welfare functions over to the states via block grants. It will reform Medicare by raising premiums and diversifying options, a move even the liberal AARP welcomes. Though federal spending would decrease from 21.7 percent of GDP only to 18.5 percent, and taxes would fall even less, the GOP budget is a major step in the right direction: toward self-reliance, a free market, and a much smaller government.
Clinton, however, has vowed to veto the budget, claiming, among other things, that it is "extreme." We will certainly hear more from the White House about Clinton's opposition. But his motives are already clear from his intransigence last week. Why did he refuse to commit to a seven-year time frame? Why did he insist on using the rosier economic assumptions? After all, shouldn't we play it safe? If we end up with a surplus, we can shrink government that much more, or cut taxes, or both.
The trouble is that these are not Clinton's goals. In opposing the GOP plan, he is defending the idea that big government is not only good but essential, that America cannot survive without it. Rather than cutting as much federal pork as possible (and I don't mean defense), he seems determined to cut as little as he can. This is a defining point. For the GOP revolutionaries, cutting government is an end in itself, a liberating elixir, as well as a means to a balanced budget. For the President, it is a bitter draught to be swallowed only as a last resort.
Some commentators (including Colin Powell) have criticized both sides for being too rigid, unwilling to compromise. And indeed they stood firm, even Clinton (though of course one could argue that standing firm 10 percent of the time is the ultimate in waffling). But there is nothing wrong with a principled stand. Clinton claims that he also favors a balanced budget, tax cuts, the "end [of] welfare as we know it," and smaller government. In blocking the GOP efforts, though, he reveals his opposition to these principles (as if his plan to socialize American medicine hadn't already).
The recent days, then, have seen not only a shutdown but a showdown, a conflict between the opposing forces of individualism and socialism, in which the Republicans have held fast and won the first battle. In 1994, America chose freedom. Mr. Clinton would do well to remember that.
John Keisling admires Clarence Thomas to no end. He is a math Ph. D. candidate whose column appears Wednesdays.
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