Budget Stumps an Honest Reporter

Budget Stumps an Honest Reporter
by L. Brent Bozell III
August 7, 1997

- Good morning, boss, thanks for making time for me. Hope I'm not bothering you.

- Not at all, Smithers, but it has to be short. I've got that appointment for a round of golf with the Prez, you know. How's the new assignment going?

- Well, that's what I wanted to talk to you about. I thought covering the national political scene was going to be pretty cut and dried - I mean, that's what most reporters think - but the more I look at this new budget deal, the more confused I'm getting.

- Like what?

- Well, for starters, this balanced budget agreement everyone's cheering about. Everyone, and I mean everyone from the Republicans to the Democrats to the national media are calling this a balanced budget agreement - and it's not.

- Oh? You know something we don't know? Something I should - heh, heh - brief the President on today?

- Well, no. And I guess that's the point, boss. Everyone's taking credit for making all the tough, fiscally responsible choices. But anyone who bothers to just look at the numbers can see it's not true. In this first year alone, spending will increase $72 billion. In the fifth year, it's supposed to go up $34 billion. So they ducked the tough decisions, figuring a future Congress and future President will show more restraint than they do. The budget will be balanced - but only if someone else does it.

- Look, Smithers. The White House signed off on this. The Republican Congress signed off on this. This was a responsible, bi-partisan compromise. Look, I gotta take some practice swings soon. What else?

- Well, it's this bi-partisan compromise everyone's talking about. Where is it? I look at the numbers and I think either the Republicans surrendered, or they've become Democrats without telling us, because I can't see where they gained a thing.

- Easy. The Republicans got their balanced budget and they've brought spending under control. Matter of fact, they're cutting the hell out of the budget. According to Mr. Deficit Reduction himself, John Kasich - he said this on national television - the deal will "save taxpayers over $950 billion" over the next decade. So there you go. And I gotta go, too.

- But it's not true, boss! LOOK AT THE NUMBERS! According to this budget agreement, they are going to raise spending by $220 billion in the next five years! And get this fact that Stephen Moore from CATO came up with: In the three years before the Republican take-over of Congress, non-defense spending rose by $152 billion. Over the past three years, under the slash-and-burn GOP leadership, spending has gone up even more, to $183 billion. Now they've voted for yet another $220 billion in new spending over the next five years - and we're going to balance the budget??

- So what are you saying? That Kasich just made those numbers up?

- In a way, yes. He's basing these "savings" on a reduction in hypothetical future increases, not real outlays. It's what's called "baseline budgeting" and -

- I know this, Smithers. Get to the point.

- Well, it's just that this is exactly what the Republicans have condemned the Democrats for doing for years. Matter of fact, look at the 1996 GOP platform. They called baseline budgeting "a deceptive and reprehensible shell game." If that's true, when people like Trent Lott call this agreement "historic," and Kasich calls it "a dream come true" - aren't they and the Republicans now playing a deceptive and reprehensible shell game, too?

- Anything else, Mr. Smithers?

- Well, yes. Remember when Bob Dole promised a 15% tax cut in the campaign last year? Clinton also promised a tax cut but said it would be something less and that it would have to be targeted. Remember how the Republicans, the conservative Republicans went nuts? They said the hell with this "targeted" nonsense because that money belongs to the taxpayers and not the federal government.

- And?

- And look at what those same Republicans just voted for? This $93 billion tax cut amounts to a one percent tax cut, and almost all of it is targeted. And these same "conservative" Republicans are now claiming victory?? I don't get it.

- I don't either. I look at Bill Clinton's approval ratings - wow! - and it's pretty obvious who the public is crediting. But tell you what, son. You go out and take a poll of business leaders. They know why business is booming, and who's responsible. And it's the fellow I'm going to be playing golf with in a few minutes. GOOD BYE.

- Wait! Come back! It's what I'm trying to tell you! Investors Business Daily just took a survey of business leaders and when they asked them to name the one person responsible for our booming economy today, by a factor of three to one they chose?

Can you hear me, boss? Boss? Boss?! (Sigh) They gave the credit to Ronald Reagan, boss.