With Friends Like These

March 11, 2005

President Bush is poised and determined to implement an ambitious domestic agenda in his second term. The question is whether his party will let him wither on the vine.

The president’s political capital is robust, having won the election handily — at least beyond sane dispute — and Republicans, on paper, firmly control Congress. The opposition’s main policy complaint — the Iraq War — has even broken in the president’s direction with the phenomenally successful elections in Iraq and the vindicating eruption of demands for liberation and democracy in Lebanon.

But things are not always as they seem. The New York Times recently reported that the president’s plan to extend his tax cuts over the next five years has met strong opposition — from certain “Republican” senators.

These senators say they are concerned about the potential impact of the tax cuts on the “ballooning” federal deficit. They are suggesting that the tax cuts be scaled back from $100 billion to $70.2 billion over the next five years.

It’s sad that even Republicans have bought into the zero-sum analysis of tax policy, believing that a dollar of tax cuts reduces revenues by a dollar. In fact — undisputed fact — marginal income tax reductions of sufficient magnitude to affect people’s production have yielded net increases in revenue at least twice in my lifetime, first with the JFK cuts of the ’60s, and next with the Reagan ones of the ’80s.

It’s predictable that Democrats would get in the president’s way on tax reform. But apparently, way too many Republican politicians are also oblivious to the power of marginal tax cuts to expand the pie and increase revenues. Obviously, they also reject the truism that Americans, especially the most productive ones, are overtaxed and that the problem with the budget is on the spending side. If congressional Republicans are resisting the president’s existing income tax structure, how much more will they oppose his more elaborate plans to restructure the tax system down the road?

Social Security is another maddening area. All parties agreed as recently as the end of President Clinton’s second term that Social Security was rapidly approaching a crisis. Clinton himself said it, and Al Gore demanded a lock box. But they never intended to lay a finger on this proverbial Third Rail of politics, as it is a sacrament of their political religion almost as sacred as abortion.

Now that George Bush has demonstrated the foresight and resolve to reform it, Democrats are even denying it’s a major problem, and are demagoging and obstructing to their partisan hearts’ content. Again, that’s predictable. What’s upsetting is that Republicans are growing feckless about private accounts, even though they offer the best chance to alleviate some of the problems with the system. Without so much as a first round of debates, some are already willing to cave.

Then there’s the ongoing outrage of the activist federal appellate judiciary, led by the moral relativistic, usurping, Constitution-disrespecting and out-of-control Supreme Court. There is no external influence that contributes to the degradation of our culture more than these institutions. There is no way for proponents of America’s traditional values to turn the tide in the Culture War without courts regaining reverence for the Constitution.

We have a president firmly in charge of the executive branch, intent on appointing constitutionalists to the federal appellate bench. But he is violently opposed by filibustering Democrats who consider jurists who believe in interpreting the Constitution as written to be extremists.

Moreover, they insist on coequal power in the president’s judicial appointments rather than limiting themselves to their assigned advise-and-consent function, in which they should pass only on the competence and character of the president’s nominees. Again, such behavior by congressional Democrats has now become utterly predictable.

But where are the Republicans? Senator Frist earlier indicated he would invoke the nuclear option, which is a deliberately misnamed remedy designed to restore Senate majority rule to the Senate judicial confirmation process — without, contrary to Senator Byrd’s hysterical rantings, suppressing debate. Are we going to wait until more damage is done to invoke this rule change, or delay until GOP liberal Arlen Specter gets ready to throw us half a bone?

These are just three issues of many, but they illustrate that no matter how competent a leader President Bush is, his admirably ambitious domestic agenda will likely be sorely frustrated without help from congressional Republicans.

I truly hate to borrow a term from Dan Rather, but it is time for congressional Republicans to show a little courage.