Pete du Pont wrote in OpinionJournal It's time to write budgetary discipline into the Constitution - How big, how expensive and how fiscally generous to industries and local communities should America's national government be? The spending policies of the current administration have made this the central domestic public policy question, for government has substantially grown under the leadership of a political party that for many decades has claimed to be the party of smaller government.
The real annual growth rate of federal government outlays is nearly at its highest modern percentage. Under President Clinton it was only 1.5%, under Ronald Reagan 2.6% and under Lyndon Johnson 5.7%. Spending has grown 5.6% a year since George W. Bush took office, and it seems likely to keep rising. Of course the war in Iraq is a part of it, but the current administration's domestic spending increase is 7.1% a year, the highest since the 1960s.
Nor has the Republican Congress been of any help. When Bill Clinton was president and the GOP controlled the House, congressionally approved nondefense spending was $57 billion less than the president requested; under Mr. Bush the Republican Congress has spent a total of $91 billion more than he requested.
This has got to stop.The president has signed on to whatever spending increases Congress has chosen to enact. He promised to veto the transportation bill if it contained more than $256 billion in spending. It contained $295 billion, and he signed it anyway. Mr. Bush has not vetoed a single bill or submitted a single rescission request to the Congress.
Bush needs to start vetoing things, and we need to pass a constitutional ammentment providing for a line item veto. This may be the only time in history we could get one through Congress. Since Bush has been reluctant to veto whole bills, the Dems may think he would never use the line item veto, and they think that if they can get Hillary in she could use it to cut the military.The last president to serve a full term in office and never veto a bill was John Quincy Adams. LBJ and Jimmy Carter vetoed about 30 each, the first President Bush 44 and Mr. Clinton 37. And the current president is the only one since the rescission process was adopted in 1974 not to use it: Presidents Ford through Clinton requested rescissions ranging from $5 billion to $43 billion.
So what are the solutions to this growing Republican spending plan? Tax increases are not one of them. President Bush's income tax cuts gave us in the fiscal year that ended on Sept. 30 the largest revenue increase in the history of the United States--a $262 billion, 14% increase. Because of the tax cuts the economy has grown 4% a year and four million new jobs have been created. Reduce tax rates and the economy grows and revenues increase.
I agree. Spending cuts are required, not tax increases.Congressional pork and earmarks are the easiest spending to reduce. Bike paths and nature trails, soccer fields, parking garages and local museums are projects that benefit cities, communities and states, and they are the proper institutions to pay for them. In the highway bill the president recently signed, there were 6,373 such projects costing $24 billion--a good starting point for spending reduction.
Agricultural subsidies (sugar, dairy, wheat, corn, etc.) now cost $19 billion a year. The Bush farm bill of 2002 reversed a 1996 effort to phase out farm subsidies, instead raising them about $8 billion a year. All these subsidies are politically motivated and none are necessary, so eliminating them would be a significant step forward.
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting's $400 million annual federal subsidy is unnecessary as well. America has 15,000 radio and television stations; why does the federal government need to support the 1,000 that are PBS and NPR stations when interested foundations, corporations and individuals could--and would--do so?
Next comes the ethanol subsidy. In August Mr. Bush signed into law a bill doubling the amount of ethanol required to be blended into gasoline--eight billion gallons by 2012. That would mean about $2.3 billion more in subsidies to ethanol producers and more than $8 billion in higher fuel costs to drivers over the next five years.
We would be doing better to drill for oil in Alaska, and send that excess corn to feed the hungry people in Africa and Asia.Postponing the Medicare Prescription Drug bill for a year would save another $33 billion. Delaying the implementation of a program that has not yet been put in place cannot be criticized as taking away existing benefits.
It would be, but from what I have seen of the Medicare Prescription Drug Plan, it is so confusing that eliminating it is probably a good thing.All of the above are offered as examples of the kind of spending reductions that could be made to significantly reduce the deficit. There are many others; the point is that spending can be reduced in many ways and by significant amounts if Congress and the president have the will to do it.
The president could help by vetoing a spending bill or two to get the message to Congress that he intends to reduce the substantial growth in spending that he has put in motion over the past four years. Add a $50 billion recession submission to the Congress--President Reagan's was $43 billion--and the right message will be coming from the White House to the legislative branch of government.
But the better solution to the huge increase in federal spending would be a constitutional amendment to hold the growth of federal spending to specific percentages of revenue unless there is a supermajority override by both houses of Congress.
I don't object to that, but include a line item veto in it.It is not a new idea--Delaware, for example, passed a constitutional amendment in 1980, when I was governor, to limit state government spending to 98% of revenue unless there is a three-fifths vote of each legislative house to spend more. The extra 2% goes into a Rainy Day Fund--the kind of fund that could be used for relief in Katrina-type national catastrophes. The amendment has produced 25 consecutive years of balanced Delaware budgets, a fiscal discipline that the federal government needs even more that state governments do.
Another approach is the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, or Tabor, which Colorado put into place via a constitutional amendment in 1992. It limits annual state government spending to inflation plus population growth, with any extra revenue going back to the taxpayers. From 1995 to 2000 Colorado ranked first in the nation in GDP growth and second in personal income growth. Its success has generated a furious effort to allow more spending that will be on the 2006 ballot.
Amending the Constitution is not easy, but is the best solution to the long term spending challenges that have faced every modern president since the Great Depression of the 1930s. And offering it up in our troubled big spending times would energize a policy debate that America needs to have.