Compassion for spending addicts

By Roger Banks
web posted April 2, 2001

According to the Washington Times, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley has resigned himself to the idea of a "trigger," tying tax relief to future surpluses. This is a sign that any conservative renaissance in Washington is still quite fragile. Never mind the talk of larger short-term tax cuts. The trigger concession signals that the Senate is still controlled by spending addicts.

The trigger, in essence, makes future tax relief dependent on future over-taxation. In principle, therefore, it is absurd. Moreover, as the President has aptly said, with the trigger in place, Congress can reduce or eliminate tax cuts by spending more. Having perfected the art of wasting tax revenue, legislators on both sides of the aisle could make quick work of eliminating promised tax cuts under any circumstances. With the aid of the trigger, they could do the trick blindfolded, one hand tied behind the back.

It is no secret that liberals in Congress are hooked on spending. Perhaps it is time to ask the compassionate question: Why should junkies of big government be deprived of the care and support available to other types of addicts? Twelve-step programs, accountability groups, talk therapy, and other treatments are effective in helping addicts overcome all sorts of dependency disorders. Yet those who suffer from a compulsion to spend taxpayer money have nowhere to turn.

Grassley gestures during a news conference on Capitol Hill, March 27, 2001 to discuss taxes
Grassley gestures during a news conference on Capitol Hill, March 27, 2001 to discuss taxes

Republicans who go along with the trigger -- e.g., Olympia Snow, John McCain, Arlen Specter, and now Charles Grassley -- are what is known in recovery parlance as "enablers." These are the folks who intervene to protect addicts from the natural consequences of their destructive ways. Regardless of their good intentions, enablers actually reduce the chances that their colleagues will ever overcome the spending dependency.

The real hope of recovery lies in confrontation with reality. Rather than agree to the trigger, which lets addicts get their fix under the guise of tax relief, an inverse trigger might be proposed: a law requiring the taxpayer to pay income tax if and only if he has a personal surplus after meeting his own spending needs. If liberals object that people could avoid taxes simply by spending, progress has already been made in illuminating the folly of the Democrat's proposal.

A similar opening occurs when liberals intone the refrain that "no responsible American family would spend money without first establishing a budget." Here the point should be made that no family would plan a budget without first subtracting taxes from gross income. In light of this revelation, invite liberals to see the surplus for what it is: the government's tax liability to the people (incurred by over-taxation), which must be deducted from the U.S. treasury's gross revenue before consideration of a detailed budget. In other words, just as President Bush proposed, tax cut first, detailed budget later.

It is important to remember that recovery is a process, not an event. Those liberated from the tax-and-spend fixation are best regarded not as cured, but recovering spendaholics. To leave excess tax revenue in Washington is morally equivalent to leaving a martini in the hand of an alcoholic. Returning the money to the people, in contrast, would be on many levels an act of compassion.

Roger Banks is a writer and lawyer in Washington, D.C. This article is a modified version of a letter to the editor originally published in the Washington Times.

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