Guarding the homeland and the treasury<br>
The challenge of budgeting for responsible government is much like the tradeoff that families face every day: balancing needs and desires with available resources.
But there’s an added element in government — the temptation of “pork-barrel spending,” using tax dollars to improve re-election prospects. For fiscal conservatives, it is a perennial struggle to pull the point of equilibrium in the direction of taxpayers and a balanced budget.
Then there are times when extraordinary circumstances push such considerations into the background, forcing the government to go into debt to fulfill even its most basic responsibilities. War, for example, and major recession, both of which we have experienced over the past three years.
Ronald Reagan proved that the best way to simultaneously stimulate the economy and ensure more long-term revenue to the government is to cut taxes so families and businesses have more to spend and invest. It is, after all, their money.
Nobel Laureate and ASU economics professor Edward Prescott put the tax argument best in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, making the case that we cannot tax our way into prosperity.
“Lower rates are good for all taxpayers,” he said. “We’re barking up the wrong tree if we think that ‘taxing the rich’ will solve our problems.”
President Bush’s stimulative tax cuts might well have increased the deficit in the short term, but over the long term were just what the economy needed to get back on its feet. The 2003 tax cuts, for example, helped cut unemployment from 6.3 percent to 5.6 percent in less than a year. (That’s lower than the average unemployment rates of the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s.)
On the other side of the equation, it would be hugely irresponsible, and tactically disastrous, to try to reduce the deficit by depriving our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan of the support they need. That’s not to say, of course, that there aren’t countless other federal programs sorely in need of a little fiscal discipline. Non-military discretionary spending (not including entitlement programs), has risen by an average of more than 8 percent since 1998. There’s a lot of pork in there — dairy subsidies come to mind — and it’s important to continue the battle against waste and abuse. But the military is not the place to be skimping, particularly not now.
With discipline, we can both support the war and hold the line on other spending. For doing exactly this, I was recently awarded the title of “Guardian of the Treasury” by Taxpayers for Common Sense, as well as the American Conservative Union’s “Best & Brightest” award for members of Congress whose voting records qualify them as “stalwart defender[s] of the conservative vision of individual liberty and limited constitutional government.”
The American economy is a mighty engine. Its steady rise over most of our national history has proven wrong many a naysayer and politically-motivated critic of growth-oriented economic policies. It will do so again, if only we give it the necessary breathing room and exercise fiscal restraint.
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