David Ridenour: To compromise would mean making U.S. economy worse

By David Ridenour

Mcclatchy-Tribune News Service

Published: Sunday, Dec. 16 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

WASHINGTON — "If all your friends jumped off a cliff, would you jump off, too?"

For generations, parents have asked this question whenever kids tried to justify risky activities with, "everyone else is doing it."

I'm unable to find a single case of a parent asking his or her child, "If all your enemies jumped off a cliff, would you jump off, too?" That's because even a small child knows this would just be, um, stupid.

But to hear the media blather over the current budget impasse between Republicans in Congress and President Barack Obama, you wouldn't think so.

The media expect the GOP-controlled House of Representatives not only to do something incredibly dangerous, but to do so hand-in-hand with their political opponents.

President Obama's budget plan calls for raising our taxes by $1.6 trillion. What would represent a fair compromise, a tax hike of, say, $800 billion?

Whether we're talking $800 billion or $1.6 trillion, new taxes will make our fiscal situation worse.

That's because taking this much money out of the productive economy would slow it further, resulting in less federal revenue.

If you have any doubt about this, consider this: Since 1950, the top marginal tax rate has ranged from 28 percent to 91 percent, yet revenue has remained fairly consistent throughout — between 18 percent and 20 percent of GDP.

The president also wants Congress to grant him authority to raise the debt ceiling without its consent. That's a blank check for Obama and all future presidents to spend beyond America's means. What could possibly go wrong?

In addition to causing federal debt to soar, it would violate our system of checks and balances. The Constitution specifies that "Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debt," not the president.

When it comes to fulfilling one's constitutional responsibilities, there's no room for compromise.

In return for all this, Obama says he'd consider $400 billion in spending cuts proposed by Republicans. No promise of cuts, mind you, just a promise to think about them. What a tempting offer.

Unfortunately, even liberals' actual promises to cut spending are worthless. Back in 1982, Ronald Reagan signed the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act, which included $1 in tax increases for every $3 in spending cuts. The tax increase happened, but the spending cuts never did.

Democrats broke their promise to Reagan.

History tells us that budgets are only balanced through spending restraint. Much credit has been given to Bill Clinton for balancing the federal budget four times during his two terms as president.

But the real reason was that fiscal hawks took control of Congress in 1995 and Clinton compromised. In his last budget before conservatives took control of Congress, Clinton projected annual deficits in the $200 billion range through 2000.

Remember how many budgets Bill Clinton had to propose in 1995 before there was one acceptable to Congress? Five. Congress balanced the budget, not Clinton.

And what of Clinton's signature achievement in controlling entitlement spending — welfare reform? That wasn't his doing, either.

To those who complain the Republican House isn't compromising enough with President Obama, I have another parental saying that's apt. "Stop your whining ... unless you really want to have something to whine about."

David A. Ridenour is president of the National Center for Public Policy Research, a conservative think tank.

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