“Congress is now spending money like a drunken sailor and I’ve never known a sailor, drunk or sober, with the imagination that this Congress has.” These are words from Sen. John McCain that I couldn’t have put better myself. Recently, Congress has gone on a spending binge that has left some very fiscally conservative Republicans uneasy about their party and the direction in which it is going.
Obviously, it is not just the spending of some Washington politicians that has put us in a large deficit. In the post-Sept. 11, 2001, world, we are facing a worldwide war on terrorism and have been facing a struggling economy. These factors add up to tough times for Congressional members desperately seeking to provide some pork to their district or to appease an angry special-interest group.
When Karl Rove developed the doctrine of “Compassionate Conservatism,” he knew that President Bush’s policies were not going to allow him to be a strong fiscal conservative. Although compared to President Clinton’s record, spending is not going up as fast. There is this desire to please everyone, and most know this isn’t possible. “Compassionate Conservatism” is a great idea, and its basis lies in the goal of providing for those who are in need while developing the most effective and efficient way of doing it. I applaud George Bush and his team for having this policy, but without some fiscal restraint I worry where it could take us.
We have just witnessed Congress passing a Medicare plan that will cost about $400 billion for the next 10 years. In the last year we have seen the largest education and farm-spending bills in history. These don’t even include the overloaded omnibus $375 billion bills ($820 billion when you include automatic entitlement spending) just introduced before Thanksgiving that fund 10 of the 14 Executive Departments and are loaded with pork or an Energy Bill worth about $100 Billion that the House has passed and will be brought up in the Senate after Christmas break.
Bills like these contribute greatly to out-of-control non-defense discretionary spending. The Wall Street Journal says, “President Bush has yet to meet a spending bill he doesn’t like.” The President has yet to veto a spending bill in his three years in office. This spending-spree needs to stop, and George Bush has the ability to do that.
While there are some tax-and-spend liberals who think President Bush isn’t giving away enough, there are a growing number of people who worry that if we keep up this pace, maybe we will have no option but to raise taxes — I am one of them. Once the economy bounces back, the government will again have strong revenue like it did during the late 90s, but if we dig too big of a hole, it’s going to be difficult to climb back out.
The U.S. government can carry a debt, that is really not a problem unless that debt gets too big, but the next time we are running a surplus, I think the best thing we could do is to pay off some of the debt instead of burning a hole in our pockets and spending it.
I feel the tax cuts were the right thing to do at the right time to do them. We are seeing the effects of them right now — some of the strongest growth in history during this last quarter. But those cuts will only work in the long term if Washington pulls in the reins on spending.
If Congress, and more importantly the Bush Administration, does not start keeping to their self-imposed 4-percent spending increase cap, it will only lead to trouble down the road. Washington is acting like a teenager with a new credit card but leaving the debt for the next generation to pay.
For the Republican Party, all political gain from this spending will be short-term. If, after the 2004 elections (because they obviously won’t do it before then), Congress and the White House don’t take a serious look at where to cut, any mounting deficits will lead to tough times for the fiscally conservative party. Republicans are still the party of small government and lower taxes, but the further they stray from this, the harder it will be to find their way back.
Matt Seaholm (email@example.com) is a junior majoring in political science