If you agree that the deficit is a bad thing and should disappear, then you basically have three options: raise taxes, cut spending, or reform the system. Clinton tried all three Ä $250 billion in spending cuts, $250 billion in taxes, and reforms of the health care system Ä and he paid bitterly for the latter two. Now the Republican-controlled House wants to prove that they are more serious than Clinton, and that they can shrink the deficit entirely with spending cuts while giving the people a multi-billion spoonful of sugar Ä tax cuts.
The success of the House's "Contract With America" is hard to judge since there is still the more levelheaded Senate which has many Republican Senators giving the contract lukewarm praise at best, and at worst outright denunciations by such moderate Republicans as Jack Kemp who said, "I'm beginning to think I'm just not in synch with my party anymore . The thing is, I'm interested in economic issues and the party seems more interested in gimmicks and procedural issues." The contract was never about economic common sense, but it's always been about easy campaign promises. Many Republicans in the House have even grudgingly admitted to voting for bills simply because they had signed the Contract and wanted "to keep their word."
In the House's insatiable appetite to please, they have caged themselves into a corner. Of the government programs they want to cut, they have exonerated social security, which is 35 percent of the budget, another 2 percent for law enforcement. National defense, which makes up 24 percent of the budget, is set for a spending increase of $25 billion Ä if they go with Clinton's meager proposal. Many Representatives want more.
Another 14 percent is set aside for interest on the debt, which they'll get to, I'm told. This leaves a total of 25 percent of the budget which they have allowed themselves to cut in order to pay for more military pork, $200 billion in tax cuts, and the reinstatement of Star Wars, just in case the Russians decide to strike first. These problems, and the apparent hypocrisy of the anti-welfare party giving government incentives for making children, have led Republicans to come out against the tax cuts.
House Speaker Newt Gingrich's claim that tax cuts are needed to reduce the deficit as "Reagan understood" falls a little flat. Simple common sense tells you that you aren't putting money into the economy with these cuts, but transferring it from one place to another. Besides, Reagan's no model for deficit reduction, but even at that, one of Reagan's former economists said, "There's not a single part of this bill that I consider an improvement over the current system."
There have been glimmers of hope in the contract. The line-item veto, for instance, might have allowed the President to cut spending, but then Congress circumvented this by creating government grants. At least before, a politician had to tack something on to a bill and dupe Congress into voting for it before he could bring pork to his district, but now the government simply gives them a multimillion dollar government handout, safe from the veto pen.
I, like most people, had hoped some of that Republican bluster could steamroller though proposals through Washington. I had hoped we could cut some of that wasteful spending such as the $85 billion we spend a year in business and farm subsidies, or the millions of tax dollars we spend to advertise Chicken McNuggets and Pillsbury Muffins abroad. But what the Republicans meant by government waste was "Sesame Street."
I had hoped we could get rid of some of the bureaucratic laws which continue to allow mining interests and foreigners to buy land at a dollar an acre, but what the Republicans meant by bureaucracy was the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Air Act and health regulations which now have an "economic override."
At the very least, I thought I'd see some tightening of the crime bill, but what the Republicans meant by helping our out-manning, out-gunned police force was to cut the 100,000 new cops provision and to repeal the semiautomatic weapons ban.
But I could overlook all of the unequal distribution of cuts, the slicing of student loans and education, if only a little bit of it went to the deficit. To appease Democrats and moderate Republicans, the tax cuts are now dependent on a nonbinding promise to reduce the deficit. But if the Republicans don't have the backbone to stand up to special interest groups like the AARP, and they can't even keep from bringing back the pork cut from the military in the past two years, they don't have the backbone to reduce the deficit.
And I doubt, very seriously, if Gingrich's spoonful of sugar will placate voters come November.
Dylan Krider is a creative writing senior. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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