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Audacious Hope

President Bush is scheduled to submit his formal budget for next year to Congress later today (never mind that Congress still hasn't passed a budget for the current year), and I am put in mind of something that's been bugging me for some time.

Traditionally, the Republicans run as the "party of fiscal responsibility." They are the ones who speak loudly of cutting government spending, cutting taxes to reduce the amount of money the government takes in, and the like. This appeals to those of a conservative or libertarian bent (like me), who are firmly convinced that if you ever want to discover the most inefficient, most wasteful, and most expensive way to do something, have the federal government do it. Further, as "the power to tax is the power to destroy," the power to spend is the power to control -- and some of us have some very firm ideas about just what sorts of things we think the government ought to control, and ought not.

This argument of the Republicans -- "we are the party of fiscal responsibility!" -- has been harder and harder to maintain in the past few years. The Bush administration, aided and abetted by an all-too-spend-happy Congress, has been spending money like a drunken Kennedy. (But I repeat myself.)

This has been a very popular argument put forth by Democrats, who gleefully point this out whenever any Republican starts talking about cutting spending or cutting taxes.

Quite frankly, I don't see why they do that. It's just not a winning argument.

Yes, the Republicans have been absymal on keeping spending in check the last few years. And yes, they deserve to have their noses rubbed in it.

But is it really wise for the Democrats to be doing the rubbing?

I'm trying to remember the last Democrat who was a bit of a spending "hawk," and none comes to mind. Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton were a bit hawkish with their dove interests, so to speak, and carved hefty chunks of money out of Defense spending. But of all the Democratic presidential candidates I can recall, only one -- Paul Tsongas, back in 1992 -- even talked about bringing a sense of fiscal responsibility to the table.

I find myself working to explain the rationale for Democrats to attack the Republicans on the basis of fiscal responsibility. "We'll do pretty much the same thing, but we're honest about it." "If you want higher taxes and higher government spending, vote for us -- we're the experts at it. The Republicans are a bunch of amateurs." "Why bother electing fake Democrats, when you can have the real thing?"

Those don't strike me as winning arguments.

If out-of-control federal spending, and the expanding role of government into more and more of our lives, is your biggest issue (it's not mine, but it's near the top), I don't see how you can vote for any of the current crops of Democrats for president.

No, the Republicans don't have a great record of late for fiscal responsibility. But dang it, at least some of them are talking about it. With them, there's at least hope that it'll actually happen. Unlike with the Democrats, where they're pretty up-front about things. They out-and-out tell you that they're going to greatly expand the role of government, take over more and more responsibilities from the states and the people, and jack the shit out of taxes to pay for it all. Of course, they won't be taxing you and me, but "the rich" and "big business" and the like will all get tapped to pay "their fair share." As Hillary Clinton told one group of fatcats, "we're going to take things away from you on behalf of the common good."

With the Republicans, they'll at least talk a good game. And with the Republicans, there's at least some hope that they'll keep their promises.

That's certainly preferable to voting for a Democrat in hopes they won't keep theirs.


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Comments (17)

Congratulations Jay, you ma... (Below threshold)
Kapow:

Congratulations Jay, you managed to write a pretty long post on Fiscal responsibility without mentioning the budget deficit. You dance around it, referring to government income (tax) and government spending but you never touch on the fact that the two are related. That's always been my idea of fiscal responsibility - spending within your (our) means. I guess you didn't mention it because it would undermine your whole argument, since Clinton balanced the budget - indeed left office with a huge surplus - before Bush squandered it all and ran up the largest deficit ever. I'm always surprised at this aspect of Republican Hawks - you want the war, but you don't want to pay for it, that's the opposite of responsible if you ask me.

Take that bleeding heart liberal Eisenhower. He inherited income tax levels from Roosevelt/Truman but did nothing to decrease the tax burden (The top rate of income tax under Eisenhower was 95%.), presumably because he was aware that the bills needed to be paid. He was the last (the first too?) fiscally responsible Republican, in my opinion.

Clinton also left office wi... (Below threshold)
_Mike_:

Clinton also left office with a huge liquidity bubble (of which the stock market bubble was a symptom). Further, consider many of the things Clinton did to 'balance the budget' were one time events and not sustainable - such as the ability to convert one's tax deferred IRA (traditional, 401k, etc) into a tax exempt IRA (i.e. Roth IRA) by paying the income taxes at that time. This essentially took future tax income and had it occur in one large lump sum at the time. Nice little shell game...

A common fallicy is to equa... (Below threshold)
Geminichuck:

A common fallicy is to equate Government budgeting and spending with personal budgeting and spending. Thus liberals like to say govt should "live within its means just like people have to . . ." This is simply an euphamism for raising taxes to pay for all their programs - then when the budget is balanced, add more programs and raise more taxes, etc.

In fact, a government is not at all like an individual. At some point an individual comes to the end of his earning capability - sometimes rather suddenly. In theory, a government goes on forever and its fiscal viability is measured in terms of bond ratings. Therefore, fiscal measurements such as the annual deficits and national debt can to be measured against elements of national value such as gross GDP and assets. Since it has been proven that reducing taxes actually results in increase revenue to the national treasury, a case can be made to eliminate either all personal taxes or all corporate taxes. It would be a very interesting experiment.

One other Democrat, besides... (Below threshold)
Jon S.:

One other Democrat, besides Paul Tsongas, called for fiscal responsbility, at least somewhat: the hallmark of Paul Simon's campaign for president in 1988 was his Balanced Budget Amendment. True, his spending priorities were vast, but at least he argued honestly that if you want big spending, you have to raise taxes, and he challenged other Dems by saying that if you don't raise taxes, you can't spend out of control (most of whom at the time went into a rage at Simon for his approach).

A balanced budget admendmen... (Below threshold)
Geminichuck:

A balanced budget admendment to the constitution would be a disaster to our economy. Congress would be constantly raising taxes to cover the spending which would subsequently skyrocket. The only good economic approach is to control spending period. As a nation we should have spending priorities contained in the budget and abide by them except perhaps for emergencies.

Shorter Jay Tea:"R... (Below threshold)
mantis:

Shorter Jay Tea:

"Republicans are better because they lie to us about their position on federal spending."

Come on people, get real. B... (Below threshold)
Scrapiron:

Come on people, get real. Bush took over after 8 years of corruption and destruction, The military in tatters, a stock market in shambles, More criminal CEO/CFO's in major industries than thought possible and the attack of 9-11 already in motion. People had better fall to their knees and give thanks they are alive, much less having more people (%) employed at higher wages for 7 streight years than any time in history. Accepting the hype of democrats shows how low American people's intil has dropped. Every democrat I know has a hand out screaming 'give me' more.

That's not entirely unfair,... (Below threshold)

That's not entirely unfair, mantis. In fact, it was in the back of my mind as I was writing this. It was only because there are real, actual budget hawks among the Republicans -- albeit woefully outnumbered -- that I didn't junk the piece entirely.

I still stick with my premise, though: it's at least slightly better than voting for the Democrats in the hopes they DON'T do what they promise.

J.

Hopeful audacity?... (Below threshold)
JohnAnnArbor:

Hopeful audacity?

So, Scrapiron, would you be... (Below threshold)
Hansel2:

So, Scrapiron, would you be that single, ignorant fool who would wish for 8 more years of Bush? Delusion knows no end with you, man.

And, "employed at higher wages 7 straight years"... what world do you live in? Most working people's wages have been stagnant for that period of time.

Actually, what am I doing arguing with you. I've read some of your previous rants. You're just a ridiculous looney.

The history of Capital Gain... (Below threshold)
Mark:

The history of Capital Gains Tax alone is enough to NOT vote Democratic.

Read this and weep<a... (Below threshold)
Mark:

Read this and weep
http://www.federalbudget.com/

Who is the worst when it co... (Below threshold)
Mark:

Who is the worst when it comes to the National Debt?
http://www.federalbudget.com/noble.html

Republicans/and/or "Liberta... (Below threshold)
JFO:

Republicans/and/or "Libertarians" preaching to democrats about fiscal responsibility is like a drunk (no intent to mean Bush) in a bar telling the patrons that they drink too much.

Hansel, reading Paul Krugma... (Below threshold)
SPQR:

Hansel, reading Paul Krugman's fraudulent columns again?

The MainStreamMedia, and th... (Below threshold)

The MainStreamMedia, and their political wing the (D)emocrats, don't condemn (R)epublicans on spending issues except to discourage (R)epublican voters.

The (D)emocrats proposed spending increases 90 times as frequently as (R)epublicans in the last Congressional session and their base knows the lies for what they are... a wink and a nod to beat down the (R)'s.

Yes, the Republicans hav... (Below threshold)
Brian:

Yes, the Republicans have been absymal on keeping spending in check the last few years. And yes, they deserve to have their noses rubbed in it.
But is it really wise for the Democrats to be doing the rubbing?

Umm, that would be "yes".

The use of earmarks grew exponentially during President Bush's years in the White House when the Republican Party controlled Congress. According to the watchdog group Citizen's Against Government Waste, in 2001 there were 6,333 earmarks totaling $18.5 billion in the federal budget. By 2005, that number had ballooned to $27.3 billion for 13,997 projects. In 2007, the first year the Democrats controlled Congress, the numbers dropped dramatically to $13.2 billion for 2,658 earmarks.



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