‘Tax-and-spend’ gives way to ‘tax-cut-and-spend’ on Capitol Hill

In fairness to the Republicans, they aren’t in charge of anything until the oath is administered to new members of Congress and the new Republican speaker is elected next month. So the Grand Old Party can’t be totally blamed for the budget mess that popped out of the Washington sausage maker this week.

But in fairness to future generations who will be saddled with an even bigger federal government and national debt because of this extravagant bipartisan budget compromise, it must be said: Those same Republicans are off to a sluggish start.

You’ve heard of tax-and-spend politicians? If this week’s fiscal lovefest between the president and congressional Republicans is any indicator, Darwin’s theory of human adaptation is alive and well in Washington.

With conservatives rightly advocating for an extension of the Bush-era tax rates, and liberals advocating for more Obama-era spending increases, a new bipartisan spawn emerged from the Potomac’s primordial stew — the “tax-and-spend” politician has officially given way to the “tax-cut-and-spend” variety.

This is not good news. Last week, I urged Republicans to vote against any effort to increase the debt ceiling and instead wield their new political mandate like a sledgehammer toward ending the deficit and shrinking the national debt. The same argument would apply to this week’s whopper of a tax-cut-and-spending bill. If we don’t get a handle on this Himalayan-sized unfunded obligation, America’s prosperity — and America herself — cannot long endure.

The story line for the fiscal fiasco of the week is by now familiar to those who read the political pages. With the decade-old tax plan authored by George W. Bush set to expire when the ball drops in Times Square to end 2010, the Republican minorities in the House and Senate demanded that those tax cuts be extended to prevent millions of Americans from experiencing a real tax increase next year.

Meanwhile the Democrats, determined to use this last lame-duck gasp of unchecked power to spend more money they don’t have, insisted on extending unemployment benefits to Americans out of work. Certainly not an unreasonable request in and of itself, either. What was unreasonable, at least to me, was that the Democrats didn’t want to pay the $50 some-odd billion-dollar price tag on extending those benefits by reducing federal spending in other areas. “Just charge it,” was their battle cry.

Making their request even more irresponsible, Democrats were also insisting on $3 billion in new cash payments for (wait for it, wait for it) solar panel installation, and a temporary two-year, 2 percent payroll tax refund predominantly for people who don’t pay much of any taxes now. The cost of this little doozy? About $120 billion.

And from those two seemingly polar positions, a familiar Washington quid pro quo was born: Let’s do it all — more tax cuts, more spending, more transfer payments — and let’s charge it to the national debt.

And with that, an unholy alliance called “tax-cut-and-spend” was born. A bad start for Republicans, indeed.

Some conservatives said this bargain with Obama was a necessary evil, but they are wrong.

In the first place, any new spending that isn’t paid for with budget cuts is spending we can’t afford. End of story. The federal government is way too big already. If you can’t pay for it by cutting something else, don’t go along with it.

What’s more, the tax-cutters in Congress were only granted a two-year extension of the Bush-era tax rates. How many pieces of silver, pray tell, will the Democrats demand when conservatives come calling to extend the tax cuts again in 24 months?

Which leads to the most compelling reason the tax-cut-and-spend alliance is bad for the country and troubling for conservatives. It’s a log-rolling, back-scratching arrangement that has the potential to replicate itself again and again and again in the coming two years.

The new Republican majority, ushered in by tea party angst and a promise to clean up Washington’s fiscal mess, will be judged in this way: Did they clean up the fiscal mess in Washington?

On that score, we’re off to a slow start.

No, the Republicans aren’t in charge yet, so there’s no need to run through the streets in panic. But when they are, they would do well to send the tax-cut-and-spend spawn back the primordial stew from whence it came this week.

Josh Penry is the former majority leader of the Colorado Senate. E-mail him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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