It’s the Spending, Stupid
By Drew Johnson On Tuesday, we Tennesseans will determine whether Harold Ford, Jr. or Bob Corker will become Tennessee’s newest Senator. The stakes are high since control of the Senate may hang in the balance. With Democrats seemingly on the verge of taking one, if not both, houses of Congress, it is time that Republicans ask why they have fallen out of favor with so many voters. A primary reason that Republicans face losing control of Congress is because they simply have not practiced the fiscal conservatism they preach. As the Cato Institute’s Stephen Slivinski notes, “Inflation-adjusted nondefense spending has grown by a total of 23 percent between 2001 and 2005. That’s faster than the growth over Clinton’s entire presidency.” To make matters worse, after the 1994 Republican Revolution in which the GOP gained control of Congress for the first time in 40 years, party leaders pledged to cut hundreds of wasteful government programs. Today, the combined budgets of the 101 largest programs slated for elimination has actually grown by 27 percent. Democrats are capitalizing on this era of big government Republicans with their own claims of fiscal conservatism and promises to cut spending, On his website, for example, Ford says, “When money runs tight for families…they make the hard choices necessary to live within their means. People have the right to expect the same of their government.” A recent analysis by Demian Brady of the National Taxpayers Union Foundation, however, offers little hope that spending would decrease under Ford. Brady finds that Ford’s campaign promises would actually boost federal spending by $34.1 billion a year if enacted. With Republicans proving incapable of taming their disastrous spending habits and Democrats proposing to spend even more, taxpayers’ best hope to restore fiscal responsibility may come in the form of a change to the federal budgetary system. A Balanced Budget Amendment is one suggestion aimed at reducing spending. The proposed amendment stipulates that total spending during a fiscal year will not exceed the amount of tax money the government collects that fiscal year. This means that deficit spending would be a thing of the past. Although this sounds appealing, the Balanced Budget Amendment offers no real protection against rising federal spending. The amendment does not prevent runaway spending, it merely requires that federal tax collections be high enough to pay for the spending, paving the way to higher taxes. A bettor solution is a Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights. A federal Taxpayer Bill of Rights would limit yearly increases in federal spending to the inflation rate plus an increase to reflect growth in population. This means that the federal government would retain significant spending power, but would not have the opportunity to fritter money during economic boom times. Unlike the Balanced Budget Amendment, a Taxpayer Bill of Rights would not only help prevent deficit spending, it would almost eliminate the need to increase taxes. A Taxpayer Bill of Rights simply forces Congress and the President to do what millions of Tennesseans do every month: live within their means. Since both parties have proven poor stewards of taxpayers’ money, it is time to rely on changes to the system to restore fiscal sanity in Congress.