A ‘cure’ we can’t afford

Message to congressional Republicans: Please, no more pledges like you made at your party’s gathering in Memphis, Tenn., to get tough on federal spending. We can’t afford them.

With Senate Republican leader Bill Frist’s injunction — “now is the time to reaffirm our roots as the party of fiscal discipline” — still fresh in their minds, senators voted to add $16 billion to President Bush’s proposed $873 billion budget cap on congressionally controlled spending. An amendment to add $7 billion to health, education and labor programs passed, 73 to 27.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Judd Gregg, R-N.H., was steamrollered in his lonely attempt to stop the spending spree.

The House votes on its own budget resolution after next week’s recess, but the tenor of things there was clear when it bulked up a bill to pay for Iraq and hurricane spending to $92 billion. And requests to the appropriations committee for additional spending on pet projects had reached almost $15 billion by the close of business Thursday.

The Senate also followed the House in raising the national debt limit to nearly $9 trillion so the Treasury can continue borrowing to pay for all this. It was the fourth debt-limit increase in five years. The authorized increases in the national debt, which was declining when Bush took office, now total $3 trillion, a one-third increase in indebtedness under his presidency.

Bush tried to get tough on spending this year with a budget that called for $65 billion in entitlement-spending cuts, largely in Medicare and Medicaid, over five years. But he presided over huge increases in spending, still having never vetoed a money bill or any other bill, for that matter, and the genie is now out of that bottle.

An analysis of 25 major government programs by USA Today’s Dennis Cauchon found that in the five years Bush has been in office, enrollment in those programs has increased 17 percent and spending on them has gone up 22 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars while the population has increased only 5 percent in that time.

It is, he wrote, the largest five-year increase in the federal safety net since President Lyndon Johnson created many of these same programs as part of the “Great Society” of the 1960s.

We used to talk about tax-and-spend liberal Democrats. Now we talk about spend-and-spend conservative Republicans.

(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)SHNS.com. Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.shns.com)