Alexander's Column

'Refund! Refund! Refund!'

Mark Alexander · Mar. 2, 2001

On Tuesday, President George Bush delivered his $1.959 trillion budget proposal for fiscal 2002 to Congress, becoming the first Republican president since 1954 to address a joint session of Congress controlled by his party. A modest proposal for incremental tax relief over the next ten years (reducing taxes by a mere 6%) was the centerpiece of the president’s address. “Refund! Refund! Refund!” is the cheer greeting President Bush at each stop on his coast to coast tour to speak with Americans about reducing their tax burden.

(Before getting to the particulars of Mr. Bush’s speech, we should note that several members of The Federalist Editorial Board are experienced content analysts. Thus, we are compelled to get beyond our elation that it was not Bill Clinton or Al Gore addressing Congress Tuesday night – indeed, we were elated – and focus on what Mr. Bush actually said.)

“The people of America have been overcharged, and on their behalf, I am here asking for a refund,” declared President Bush before Congress. “Unrestrained government spending is a dangerous road to deficits, so we must take a different path. [We must] let the American people spend their own money to meet their own needs, to fund their own priorities and pay down their own debts. The growing surplus exists because taxes are too high and government is charging more than it needs. To create economic growth, we must put money back in the hands of people who buy goods and create jobs.”

By conservative standards, Mr. Bush’s request for a “refund” is badly misstated. When the government confiscates less of our income, that is not a “refund.” Framing the debate with such language constitutes the pervasive “sick think” we are accustomed to hearing from those suffering chronic Potomac Fever – you know, the same Beltway elite who call government spending “investment.” He then stated what the central government must “let the American people” do. However, our Constitution specifies precisely the inverse relationship regarding who lets whom do what.

(If you think we are reading too much into Mr. Bush’s words – think again. No Federalist patriot can afford to relax his or her vigilance against Leftspeak, which enshrines the central government in current debates about its proper role.)

“Year after year in Washington, budget debates seem to come down to an old, tired argument,” Bush said. “On one side, those who want more government, regardless of cost; on the other, those who want less government, regardless of need. We should leave those arguments to the last century.”

This is what is known in common parlance as “the false dichotomy.” In Clintonese, it is known as “the BIG lie,” and we have heard plenty of them in the last eight years. Reagan conservatives, who desire a government that functions within the limits of our Constitution, are not “those who want less government, regardless of need,” as Bush implies in that ugly soundbite.

There is a major distinction between “compassionate government,” which is an oxymoron, and “compassionate conservatism,” which is redundant. Mr. Bush, unfortunately, does not thoroughly comprehend the distinction. Most of his address was dedicated to compassionate government, “doubling” spending here and “tripling” spending there. How about $700 million for a “Federal Compassion Capital Fund”? WHAT? (We hope this was a teleprompter glitch.) Or this: “Values are important, so we have tripled funding for character education.”

Of course, Mr. Bush proposed the crown jewel of silliness – a trillion-dollar “contingency fund.” That is equivalent to 60% of his proposed tax reduction – how compassionate!

In the American political lexicon, “conservative” is properly defined as, “true to the Constitution.” We searched hard, but found little legitimate constitutional authority for most of Mr. Bush’s tax-and-spend proposals. This is not to say that we anticipated the new president would turn Washington on end and demand that Congress subject its appropriations and regulations to a constitutional test. Indeed, he is to be credited for pursuing tax reduction and advocating more control and authority for state and local government. However, Mr. Bush proposed spending on top of spending, without ever mentioning by what authority.

Pragmatists argue that Mr. Bush is wisely taking an “incremental approach” to downsizing the bloated central government, because the balance of power in Congress is so tenuous. But Dick Cheney noted, “In the interest of civility you [can’t] sacrifice fundamental beliefs [or] principle.” Unfortunately, principle found no shelter in Mr. Bush’s address. The honeymoon is over and it is time for constitutional conservatives to insist that the president and Congress conform to the limits of our Constitution.

In other news, Daschle-Gephardt, et al., staggering from weeks of having their voice and agenda subordinated by the media’s newfound interest in the ethical behavior of their party’s titular head, pulled out all the “class warfare” stops – a perennial favorite – to counter Mr. Bush’s plans to let Americans keep a little more of what they earn.

Senate Demo Leader Tom Daschle said, “The President’s plan is deeply unfair to middle-income Americans. … Surely, the wealthiest among us should not get [a tax break] at the expense of working families. When [Bush] insists on [tax cuts] that threaten the prosperity of all Americans…we will fight and fight hard.”

House Demo Leader Dick Gephardt said, “It is very hard to turn off a tax cut. We had to do that in 1993 when President Clinton came in and it was very hard to get the votes to do that. We don’t want to repeat that mistake. … [Bush’s] plan leaves no money for anything except tax cuts. Ours does. Our plan is better. It invests in the greatest needs and highest priorities of our country.”

Sociocrats’ ability to exercise power over their subjects is directly proportional to their ability to redistribute wealth according to Karl Marx’s Communist maxim: “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.” Thus, the first priority for all Federalist patriots is to neuter the central government’s tax machine in the name of “LIBERTY!”

Memo to Daschle-Gephardt and other “class warfare” hucksters: Democrat Zell Miller, cosponsor of President Bush’s tax reduction measure in the Senate, had this to say about your rhetoric – “I hate this class-warfare talk. I think the Democrats are making a terrible mistake and don’t serve the people very well by engaging in it. It’s bad politics. … I think the Democrats are making a terrible mistake by being against a tax cut. … If we go back in 2002 with this same old [class-warfare] mantra, the voters are going to skin us alive.”

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