Former Republican Majority Leader Dick Armey is guestblogging over at Time's political weblog http://time-blog.com/swampland/. There are two questions I wish somebody would ask him.
(1) You are a committed shrink-the-state small-government Republican. Yet you carried a huge number of buckets of water for the Bushies in 2001 and 2002 as they expanded the federal government substantially while making no provision for funding the increased spending. You did this without pushing back at all--thus serving as a good soldier for policies that you thought were destructive and unpatriotic. Why?
(2) You are a committed civil libertarian. Yet you carried a huge number of buckets of water for the Bushies in 2001 and 2002 as threw a great many procedural protections of constitutional rights overboard. You did this without pushing back at all--serving as a good soldier for policies that you thought were destructive and unpatriotic. Why?
It would be a service to the public and to history if Armey's feet were to be held to the fire until he explains just what the hell he thought he was doing in 2001 and 2002. He certainly broke the hearts of people I know who believed in him.
When I met Armey in 2004, you see, he talked a very good game as a committed small-government fiscally-prudent libertarian conservative. And the small-government conservative plan at the start of 2001 was to (a) use the fact that Bush had run his campaign promising a big tax cut to pass a big tax cut, (b) use the procedural requirements of the Budget Enforcement Act to attach promises of future spending growth restraint to the tax cut, and then (c) actually enforce the spending caps adopted. All of these linkages are important: as Bill Niskanen argues these days (and as Jim Buchanan argued three decades ago) deficit-causing tax cuts are worse than useless as far as achieving small-government ends in the long run are concerned.
Yet Armey punted on this agenda at almost every opportunity during the 2001-2002 term in which he was Majority Leader. Consider:
- The--big--decision in 2001 and 2002 to abandon the procedural restraints of the 1991 Budget Enforcement Act--PAYGO and its cousins.
- The--big--decision to make the fiscal impact of the tax cut look smaller by "sunsetting" it after nine years.
- The leadership's direction that CBO lowball the assumed future discretionary spending growth rate in order to make the budget picture look rosier than it truly was http://nationaljournal.com/members/buzz/2001/budget/020601.htm
- The rejection of Greenspan's and O'Neill's advice to make the full implementation of the 2001 tax cuts contingent on successful spending restraint.
- The leadership's decision in 2001 to use Mitch Daniels's OMB numbers--biased and cooked--rather than CBO numbers during the tax debate.
- The leadership's decision in 2001 to ignore the spending growth cap it had passed in its own budget resolution.
- The leadership's acquiescence in OMB's delay of its 2001 mid-session review in order to avoid having to deal with bad budget news that would have forced either smaller tax cuts or more spending restraint during the summer.
- The leadership's decision in the summer-of-2001 to shift the budget goalposts from "not raising the national debt" (i.e., balancing the budget without counting the Social Security and Medicare surpluses as net revenue) to "balancing the budget" (i.e., counting the Social Security and Medicare surpluses as net revenue).
- The leadership's decision not to offer tax increases to fund the war against Osama bin Laden.
- The leadership's decision to use "emergency supplementals" for expected and foreseen spending--not for true surrise emergencies.
- The 2002 passing of a "stimulus" bill after Greenspan had called the end of the recession it was supposed to cure.
- The 2002 farm bill.
- The breaking of the House's version of the budget resolution spending caps when it came time to actually pass fiscal-2003 appropriations.
- In fact, the lack of any spending growth restraint at all in the fiscal 2003 appropriations.
I won't even speak of Armey's role in the Bush "security" agenda after 911.