One Tiny Step for Clinton: One Giant Step for Government

Commentary by Pete du Pont

Was it only a little over a year ago, during the 1996 presidential election, that conservatives were accusing President Clinton of co-opting the Republican agenda, of stealing Republican ideas and claiming them as his own?

Well, no one is accusing Clinton of doing that now. He's back, the old Bill Clinton we used to know - with one important difference. We used to laugh at the constant political missteps of the old Bill Clinton. Conservatives aren't laughing anymore - at least not at his political skill. He is more proficient than ever at getting his agenda through Congress.

The president gave us a warning last year. In a September 15 speech to the Service Employees International Union, President Clinton said, "Now, what I tried to do before [with regard to health care reform] won't work. Maybe we can do it another way. That's what we've tried to do, a step at a time until we eventually finish this. . . . We've got to do it right so we can go on to the next step and the next step and the next step."

The president's budget, which he just released, is filled with "steps." And unless Republicans act quickly and decisively, committed to the principles of limited government that brought the majority in Congress, the president is going to "step" all over them.

Initial analyses of the costs of the president's proposals - which include funding for child care, expansion of Medicare, 100,000 new teachers, school construction, expansion of welfare programs such as food stamps and much, much more - vary from $60 billion to $150 billion. And, of course, the president wants to increase the minimum wage again, even though Congress just passed an increase in 1996.

Even though a number of these programs will sound appealing to many Americans, as the Democrats tell people they are a step forward, they are a step backward:

Back to the big-government policies that produced an economic slowdown during the 1970s.

Back to the time when congressmen argued that policies already set in place demanded an increase in taxes.

Back to a time when the biggest concern was a growing federal deficit, not how to spend a budget surplus.

They're also a step backward because the government will be taking more of the people's money. Today the federal government takes 20.2 percent of our gross domestic product in taxes. That's the highest average for any presidency in history - and Clinton wants the government to keep spending more.

But, you may ask, didn't the administration and Congress agree on some spending caps in the last budget agreement? Ah, but Clinton proposes to use money from a tobacco settlement that doesn't yet exist, and may never exist, to get around the caps.

We probably shouldn't expect honesty from a government that considers a budget balanced when it counts as revenue $100 billion in Social Security payroll taxes that it promptly borrows. (It's like saying your household budget is in balance if what you charged to a credit card is counted as income.)

Worst of all, however, is that any new federal program becomes more difficult to kill, and all come with strings attached. Every program will carry with it a new host of regulations and a new host of people to administer it - and create almost immediate demands for further expansion.

The greatest service government could do is reduce spending rather than increase it. For example, the major reason both adults in so many families work outside the home today is that most or all (and in some cases even more) of one of the incomes goes to taxes. Yet many of the proposals for new spending are aimed at taking care of family problems that higher taxes created.

For the last few months of 1997, commentators frequently mused whether President Clinton had become a lame-duck president. Those comments apparently roused the president from playing catch with his new dog - or White House interns - into a concerted effort to prove he is not a lame duck.

It now appears those were some very costly comments - perhaps $150 billion worth.

Considering the president's $1.7 trillion budget and his array of new proposals, he may be correct in saying that the "era of big government is over." We are now entering the era of really big government.