Perhaps a front-page article in the Washington Post from last week best sums up why I see the Republican Revolution has turned out to be one consisting more of style than substance.
When I last served in Congress, more than 10 years ago, it was as a member of the Republican minority. Back then we spoke passionately about cutting taxes and ending the federal stranglehold on our schools, economy and property. When I was re-elected to the House in November 1996, I looked forward to serving in a House controlled by the party which has at least paid lip service to the important issues of cutting taxes and limiting the size of the federal government to those areas outlined by the Constitution.
Like many Americans, of course, I have been disappointed by politicians who can talk the tax-cutting talk, but who walk the big-government walk. Perhaps a little too optimistically, I hoped 1997 would be different. I actually looked forward to being able to report to the people of the 14th District that Congress has finally come around to doing what the American people have wanted for a long time: cutting taxes, cutting spending, cutting the size of government.
But what mark has this Republican Congress of 1997 left on history? The answer was to be found very early on, just after the new Congress convened in January. The very first "domestic" action made by Congress was to raise taxes. Over the opposition of only a handful of us, Congress voted to increase taxes on the sales of airline tickets.
If it had stopped there, maybe it would not have been so bad. But at every turn, this Congress has voted, directly or indirectly, to increase taxes. Of course, it was often sold - if mentioned at all - as "revenue generation" for government, or, as "closing a loophole." But the bottom line is this: Americans are going to be paying more taxes this year than last year, to finance a bigger government with more unconstitutional programs.
Has this Congress, in 1997 - three years after the so-called "Conservative revolution" - done anything to cut the spending and cut the number of unconstitutional agencies? No, not a one. Perhaps it would not have been so bad if Congress only had moved to stop the growth of these agencies, if it was not going to all-out abolish them. But this Congress has increased the funding for almost all of the federal boondoggles; the pornographic National Endowment for the Arts, the Department of (mis)Education, and the bureaucrats at the EPA, all saw budget increases.
Even worse, Congress gave more money to the IRS - the most corrupt and hated of the federal agencies - than that organization has ever received. Americans say they want to get rid of the IRS, but the Republican Congress has given the IRS money to do more of their same old tricks. In fact, the Congress gave the IRS more than $700 million over last year! Sure, there have been some gentle slaps at the agency with legislation, but nothing extraordinary.
If that were not bad enough, Congress has seen fit to not just escalate the funding of already-existing unconstitutional programs, but to actually add new agencies and programs which serve to benefit special interests at the expense of hard-working Americans.
Last week, the left-leaning Washington Post ran a front-page story headlined "Budget Pact's 1st Bottom Line: A Surge in Domestic Spending." The story details, in glowing terms, how this new budget is "the largest amount of overall government spending ever." Ever! And remember, this was the supposed "conservative" Republican budget. The spending items brought forward by the Republican leadership and approved by the House - over my objections - was more than what even the president had asked.
But for as discouraging as 1997 was for those of us who seek to cut taxes, cut spending and cut the unconstitutional programs, there is still reason for some optimism. We should be optimistic because for the first time in many, many years, at least the rhetoric is on our side. Even the statists, those who love government intervention, are couching their big-government ideology in quasi-constitutional phraseology.
While having a bunch of politicians talking about cutting taxes is not the same thing as actually having that money in your wallet, it is a sign that politicians are getting the message that the American public is tired of high taxes, big spending and intervention in matters outside the federal government's constitutional jurisdiction.
In this battle over federal priorities, those of us fighting on the side of constitutional government, individual liberty and free markets must not give up. The fact that the 1998 budget is bigger than any before it should spur us not into retreat, but more resolutely into action. Now is not the time for us raise our hands in surrender to the big-government advocates who mouth the rhetoric of our beliefs, but rather for us to speak more forcefully, work harder, for lower spending.
History will unfortunately record that 1997 was the
year Congress passed the biggest-spending budget ever. But if
we work hard and wisely, then perhaps 1998 will be recorded as
the first time in history the level of federal taxes and spending
actually began to shrink.
Ron Paul represents the 14th District of Texas. His office may be contacted at 203 Cannon, Washington, DC 20515.