Could even Siegfried & Roy make $1.8 trillion disappear?
By Vin Suprynowicz
It's become the modern custom for the State of the Union address to preview the president's budget proposal. Thus, no one should pretend surprise at the welfare/police-state wish list - a blueprint for a central government which would actually manage to spend $1.84 trillion dollars in a single year in peacetime - rolled out by Bill Clinton last Monday.
Nonetheless, this lack of surprise should not prevent us from commenting on the shameless cynicism of this "budget" exercise, which would resemble nothing more than the cartoon character Scrooge McDuck waving his hand at a jewelry store display and saying, "I'll take it all," were the moneys in question not looted from the paychecks of actual Americans, many working two jobs to cover the tax bills while keeping food on the table.
First, of course, comes the president's assertion that during his term of office Washington City has "paid down the debt by nearly $300 billion," and will finish funding and paying off all federal obligations in a few more years under this budget plan.
Would "paying down the federal debt" and other obligations be a good idea? Maybe. It would be interesting to see if Americans would accept a $100,000 cash payoff, per person (less for those under age 40), in exchange for the permanent shutdown of the actuarially bankrupt Social Security Ponzi scheme - no more FICA withholdings out of any American paycheck, ever.
But while truly "paying off the debt" might or might not be a good idea, it's simply not happening. The federal government continues to sell "Treasury bills" and every other form of debt instrument which investors will buy, as fast as the presses will roll. Have any holders of such debt been contacted by the Treasury secretary with an offer to redeem the stuff early as the United States proceeds to quickly "pay off its debt"? Are new employees in those offices warned their jobs will end in a few years? Of course not.
What has happened is that the ongoing economic boom has flooded Washington with extra money - like the ground of an apple orchard unexpectedly littered with fruit after a freak windstorm - based on tax rates set back in the days when the current boom was totally unforeseen.
The bureaucrats of Washington would now assert they have to get busy turning those apples into cider and applesauce before they spoil. Problem is, they don't own the orchard - we do. So this is really more akin to a gang of hoodlums scrambling around in a panic, trying to steal all the fruit they can before the owners get back across the creek.
"How can we pay down the debt with a budget that substantially expands the size and scope of the federal government?" asks House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill, with increasingly rare good sense. "How can the 'era of big government' be over when his budget would create close to $350 billion in new government spending?"
Any "tax cuts" in the president's budget are piddling. And they're not even the kind of across-the-board cuts which would allow Americans to spend more of their own earnings as they see fit. Instead, these "cuts" come in the form of "targeted tax breaks" - limited kickbacks which Americans who "file" can earn only by bearing more children, buying a new house, paying college tuition, or whatever.
Yes, each of those activities may be a fine thing in itself, but when did it become Washington's business to "reward" certain selected activities, while "punishing" with higher taxes those who choose to invest their earnings in other ways?
Then, Mr. Clinton would turn around and grabs back two-thirds of these piddling "cuts" with a huge new tax hike on tobacco - 25 cents a pack and a $3,000 fine per "youth smoker" should tobacco companies fail to halve youth smoking in four years, a retrogressive tax which will take a far greater chunk out of the paychecks of the working class, who spend much more of their income on the nasty habit than do the wealthy.
(What next? Shall we fine domestic candy and ice cream manufacturers if the average American kid fails to get skinnier by the year 2004? Would they be allowed to haul in a bunch of emaciated urchins from Bangladesh to make the numbers look better?)
And we haven't yet reached the final level of cynicism in this "budget proposal."
For Bill Clinton knows full well such a gargantuan "wish list" of welfare-state candy and snow cones (senior citizens want free prescription medicines? Let the line form on the left!) will be dead on arrival in the Republican Congress.
In fact, he's counting on it.
Having avoided all the hard, responsible choices, the president now dares the GOP to spend only 96 percent, only 98 percent, of the money here requested. Then the scene will be set for Al Gore's Democrats on the campaign trail next fall to revile the Republican opposition as "hard-hearted misers, who would rip the food and medicine out of the mouths of the very widows and orphans!"
Not that the Republicans are entirely averse to playing this game, which allows them to dole out wealth beyond the dreams of Croesus to those who have padded their campaign chests, and still claim the mantle of "fiscal conservative" when they savagely postpone funding for three self-esteem counselors at the middle school in Chepachet, Rhode Island.
Thus do both parties primp and pose according to their assigned, Kabuki-like roles, while the bureaucrats continue to grow fat on the sweat of our brows.
Vin Suprynowicz is assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. His new book, "Send in the Waco Killers" is available at $24.95 postpaid from Mountain Media, P.O. Box 271122, Las Vegas, Nev. 89127; or by dialing 1-800-244-2224
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