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It’s the spending, stupid. How Grover Norquist and ATR blew it

The other day I received a blast e-mail from Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) signed by its president Grover Norquist.  Mr. Norquist has become a lightning rod for President Obama and congressional Democrats because of his opposition to higher taxes to address the fiscal crisis in Washington D.C.  President Obama and Democratic leaders have asserted that a “balanced” approach to deficit reduction is needed including raising tax rates on upper income Americans.  In addition, the Obama administration wants to end so-called loopholes for millionaires, billionaires, and corporations so they can pay their ‘fair share” of taxes to avoid cuts to domestic spending.  Norquist and other anti-tax groups oppose Obama’s desire to hike taxes in any form.

Although ATR has been successful in getting hundreds of first-time candidates and legislators to sign its pledge not to vote for higher taxes if they are elected or reelected to Congress or their state legislature, it and other DC anti-tax groups have failed miserably in reining in the real issue facing the country–government spending.

In Norquist’s recent email, he writes, “The D.C. mentality of spending money that they don’t have must end.”  This is the first time I can recall receiving a message from ATR about spending.  In the past, its mantra has been no new taxes, which I agree with 100%.  However, the debt crisis we face today has its roots in the “conservative” Reagan and Bush I administrations.

During Reagan/Bush’s twelve-year rein, federal spending doubled and the national debt rose from $1 trillion to $4 trillion.

Eight years of Bill Clinton could be considered the golden age of fiscal restraint.  Federal spending rose by only $450 billion, or about 32%, while the federal debt rose by slightly less than $1.5 trillion.  Moreover, in the last four years of the Clinton administration, the federal government ran a nearly $600 billion budget surplus.  At the end of the Clinton administration budget surpluses were projected to be $6.5 trillion for the first ten years of the 21st century.  It did not happen.

Thanks to eight years of Bush/Cheney, who gave us the welfare-warfare state in spades, federal spending nearly doubled to $3.5 trillion and the national debt nearly doubled to $12 trillion.  President Obama is making all previous presidents look like fiscal conservatives with three consecutive $1 trillion budget deficits, mind numbing spending and more of the same for the next several years. In short, federal spending is now at the proverbial crossroads as the federal budget reaches nearly $4 trillion.

Although ATR’s goal of stopping tax hikes has been relatively successful, the real burden of the federal government is how much it spends, because the American people have to pay for spending eventually in the form of higher taxes or devalued money.  In other words, ATR’s anti-tax pledge has been meaningless in the end because signers of The Pledge ignored spending as Reagan, Bush I and Bush II increased federal expenditures and the national debt to unconscionable levels.  George W. Bush’s manic spending paved the way for the election of Obama and the fiscal crisis we face today.

ATR needs a pledge on spending.  The pledge would state:  “I promise to vote for a budget only if it is lower by at least 10% than the current one.”  This would cause the federal budget to decline every year until spending and revenue are balanced at much lower levels.  Eventually, the federal government would only spend the American people’s money on programs authorized by Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution.

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