A ‘spartan and skimpy’ budget

Published 9:25 pm Monday, February 12, 2007

Only a Democrat like Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland could say with a straight face that President Bush’s proposed $2.9 trillion budget for 2008 is “spartan and skimpy.” Democrats never have enough of our money to spend on their favorite entitlement programs — the ones that keep them in office.

There are some good things in this budget, which Democrats see as bad and some bad things, which Republicans see as good.

Among the good is the president’s proposal for eliminating money for 141 programs, saving $12 billion over five years. While $12 billion in a $2.9 trillion budget is chump change, the elimination of outdated and unneeded government programs is a trend to be encouraged.

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The president also wants to make his tax cuts permanent, but he’ll be lucky if he just wins a brief extension of them. The tax cuts have had their desired effect. As Brian Riedl of The Heritage Foundation notes, current tax revenues following the rate cuts amount to 18.4 percent of GDP, which is above the historical average. And 2006 tax revenues were $47 billion above the level projected by the Congressional Budget Office before the 2003 tax cuts. “Supply-side economics,” often derided by the Left, has again been proven to work. Less is more when it comes to taxes (less) and revenue (more).

Those awfully named “entitlements” are reduced in the president’s budget proposal, saving $95.9 billion over the next five years. Much of the savings would come from Medicare by slowing the growth of payments to hospitals and health-care providers and increasing premiums for those with higher incomes. That’s called “means testing” and it has been needed for some time. Democrats, who believe in “soaking the rich,” ought to favor this proposal, but they probably won’t because, if they want to persuade people his is a “failed administration,” they can’t afford to allow the president to “win” anything. Both parties know that Medicare and especially Social Security need reform, but few want to do what is necessary for fear of being demagogued by the other party. As a result, little gets done and the coming disaster from the impending retirement of 77 million baby boomers draws ever closer.

The president again asks for a line-item veto he says will pass Supreme Court scrutiny and his request for money to continue the effort in Iraq is placed in the regular budget instead of hiding it in “emergency” spending bills, as has been done before. That’s a major reason why the total budget is so high.

Bad things in the budget, as outlined by Citizens Against Government Waste, include the failure to eliminate the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT). Congress designed this monster to get at the super-rich who often managed to avoid paying any taxes, but the AMT hits a larger share of the middle class every year. The proposed one-year “fix” of the AMT does not solve the problem it has inflicted on many middle-class taxpayers.

There is another ridiculous proposal for $9 billion in loan guarantees for alternative energy sources and $2.7 billion for advanced technologies. Haven’t we been spending and pursuing such things for 30 years? This proposal will not bring us closer to energy independence, but it could raise prices and increase dependency on government handouts. Why not let the market and a political leadership that mobilizes the country to change its behavior decide such things?

The war aside (granted it’s a pretty big aside), there is still too much in the budget that is designed to meet public expectations. There are still too many people who believe they are owed something from the sweat of another’s brow. These are people who are told from the earliest stages in life that they cannot make it without the help and money of others. Instead of being taught the life principles of those who have made it, they are taught the envy principles of those who have not.

That government has become a first resource for such people, instead of a last resort, grows the budget and expands the horizons of those who believe it is more blessed to receive than it is to give. Conservatives now praise a slowing in the rate of growth as sound fiscal disciple, while liberals lament the “cuts in needed domestic programs.”

Why can’t government live within OUR means, instead of us always having to live up to government’s wants?

(Direct all MAIL for Cal Thomas to: Tribune Media Services, 2225 Kenmore Ave., Suite 114, Buffalo, N.Y. 14207. Readers may also e-mail Cal Thomas at CalThomas@tribune.com.