As President Bush prepares to send down his latest budget proposal, a gloomy realization dawns——— Republicans are blowing a rare opportunity. With control of the House and Senate, the Presidency, and with the Democrats in absolute disarray, what have they chosen to focus on? 'Fixing' Social Security. Fixing a New Deal program. What a colossal waste of political capital!
In purely political terms this is a drastic mistake. Democrats love 'complex' issues, the better to 'nuance' their position, to demagogue the uninformed and apathetic public. You would be hard—pressed to find a more complex issue than the long—standing mess of Social Security. And oh how easy will it be to convince older voters that those fat—cat Republicans are once again trying to steal from them. Bush and company have unwittingly thrown the sinking Democrats a big, fat life preserver.
Social Security, of course, does need reform, as do almost all of our massive federal enterprises. But should it be the first priority of a Republican Administration with a rare Congressional majority?
Listening to the debates over Social Security reform the last few weeks as a detached and somewhat disgusted observer, one notices two outstanding points: first, as usual, most people don't know what they are talking about, and second, both sides are so caught up in their partisan enthusiasm as to miss the big picture.
To cut through all the intricate detail over why Social Security is in 'crisis' or not in 'crisis' is simple. You need focus on only one thing. Spending.
Now here is an issue to sink your conservative teeth into.
Out—of—control spending is the real 'crisis' and a quick look at the new budget reveals that nothing; absolutely nothing is being done to stop it. The administration claims they are 'cutting' 150 programs to appear frugal when the reality is they are shifting costs from program to program, appeasing gullible conservatives with a whopping 1% of proposed discretionary spending cuts. (Soon to be followed by the inevitable requests for additional billions for Afghanistan, Iraq, etc.) Meanwhile Social Security funds have been used through Congressional and administrative accounting slight—of—hand to feed the ever—growing Federal spending Leviathan, and soon the bookkeeping malfeasance will come to Enron—like light.
This explains why left unsaid in all the various schemes proposed are the two simplest cures:
1. Prohibit the spending of Social Security collections in the Federal Budget.
2. Permit a substantial tax deduction to those who opt out of the voluntary program.
But of course these simple measures cannot and will not be attempted, for to do so would reveal the true size of the budget deficit amid the continuing explosion of Federal spending. And this would curtail the new and voracious Republican appetite for spending. Yes, experience has taught us that former small—government proponents, once in office, get a taste of the spending narcotic and are quickly hooked on the buzz of federal power.
Disgust is an appropriate reaction. From Goldwater to Reagan, conservatives have fought the good fight and preached the good word of limited government. Since 1968 conservatives have won more elections than they have lost but have little to show for it. Consider this. Ten years ago Clinton proposed a budget of a staggering 1.6 trillion dollars. Bush is spending 2.5 trillion this year. That's two thousand five hundred billion dollars. (Perhaps this is a good place to be reminded that it has not been a billion minutes since the birth of Christ.) Cheney calls the new budget 'tight' and explains that it is a 'fair, reasonable, responsible effort' at cutting spending, thus, is a pathetic 1% cut in proposed discretionary spending described by our supposedly right—wing Vice President. Let the spin begin!
Will the Bush Plan work? Maybe yes. Maybe no. But so what?
A cursory listing of other conservative priorities will swiftly reveal what other issues could be tackled using the presidents political capital over the next two years. And now are, sadly, on the back burner:
—The continuing and dangerous manufacturing and technology transfers. .
—Catastrophic trade deficit
—Renewed domestic energy development.
—Confirmation of federal judges.
—The ongoing and relentless coarsening of our national culture as God is denied mention in the public square.
Each of these issues is closer to the 'crisis' stage then Social Security. Each of them requires immediate and aggressive action, and most tellingly, a Kerry Administration would address none of them. Yet for conservatives, the Bush Administration, the only alternative, is left wanting——— and conservatives are left waiting.
Now you may say these and all projects dear to Republican hearts will eventually be addressed. Yes, but when? The President is barnstorming the country to convince the heartland of the wisdom of his plan now. He is twisting arms and massaging the willing. He is leveraging his power and spending his capital to get this done—it will take a great effort. And though difficult, he should not be 'misunderestimated'. He has proven adept at getting what he wants against high odds. But it is a misbegotten effort, unworthy of the time and energy expended.
President George W. Bush has proven a master politician and an effective leader. It is difficult and unpleasant to be forced to find fault with him. Let us hope that over the next two crucial years he pursues policies that will advance the Republican agenda, protect the nation, and preserve the liberty and freedom advanced by the ideals and sacrifices of our nation's Founders.
Andrew Sumereau is a writer residing in East Stroudsburg, PA