Tax-Cut and Spend Republicans

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By Terry M. Neal
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Monday, October 3, 2005; 8:42 AM

As Republicans celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the Contract With America, where is the zeal for smaller government that was such a central aspect of the 1994 Republican Revolution?

In the five years he has been in office, President Bush and the GOP-led Congress have added $1.5 trillion and counting to the federal debt they inherited after Bill Clinton left office. Even many of today's conservative pundits and activists are questioning the party's priorities.

But does the president deserve all the blame?

With a large number of Republicans left over from the 1994 revolution, what happened to the zeal for reining in spending?

In a story that ran in The Washington Post in 2000 during the election, Dan Balz and I wrote that Bush was staking ground as a new kind of Republican, "a tax-cut and spend" politician.

Bush's approach has always been more about political strategy than governing philosophy. In other words, it's a way to win elections. After getting a scare in the 1998 midterms, in which Republicans failed to expand their majority, even amid the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, many Republicans bought into the Bush-Rove strategy for expanding the party's power.

In the 2000 election, Bush proposed cutting taxes; he also proposed hundreds of millions of dollars in new government spending without outlining a major spending cut. And he's largely kept that promise as president.

Cutting taxes is popular. But cutting programs to help balance those cuts is not. Combining the two -- tax cuts and spending increases -- is a prescription for victory and potentially political longevity, even it means running up huge deficits and exploding the federal debt. Why? Because most people could care less about the federal deficit -- a fact that many polls have confirmed over the years. Most people assume, hey, what's a little debt? I've got credit card bills up to my eyeballs -- at least the government can print money.

When Bush billed himself as a "new kind of Republican" in his first campaign for the presidency, he was implicitly shedding the label of the mean-spirited right-winger whose primary objective was to simultaneously cut taxes for the rich and slash services for the needy.

A new report from the conservative Heritage Foundation makes it clear just how much the GOP loves big government.

It has been so long since anyone has had a serious discussion about the Contract With America that it's easy to forget that the very first of its 10 planks was "The Fiscal Responsibility Act: A balanced budget/tax limitation amendment and a legislative line-item veto to restore fiscal responsibility to an out-of-control Congress, requiring them to live under the same budget constraints as families and businesses."

The contract was packed full of ambitious agenda items. And to be fair, the GOP congressional majority that rode into town after the 1994 elections, and the Bush administration that came to power five years ago, have accomplished many of the goals, including increasing defense spending and slashing welfare rolls.


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