WASHINGTON — In U.S. Vice President Al Gore’s mind, nothing is riskier than letting taxpayers keep more of their money. Which makes his election the riskiest action U.S. voters could take.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates a cumulative $4.6 trillion surplus through 2010. Alas, it has never been more obvious that budget surpluses are more dangerous than deficits.
The surplus will never materialize, since both parties want to spend as much as possible. Republican presidential nominee Texas Gov. George W. Bush is attempting to demonstrate his compassion by proposing new spending programs — about $425 billion worth over the next decade, according to the National Taxpayers Union.
The GOP Congress is even worse. My Cato Institute colleagues Stephen Moore and Stephen Slivinski observe in a new study that “The 106th Congress is well on its way to becoming the largest-spending Congress on domestic social programs since the late 1970s.”
Still, Gore wins the would-be big spender race. NTU figures his promises so far come to $2.3 trillion over 10 years. That’s more than the total non-Social Security surplus. That a Gore administration is likely to be loose with the public purse is evident from his congressional record. The nonpartisan NTU rates legislators, with scores running from 0 (wastes money on everything) to 100 (consistently attempts to cut spending).
Between 1979 and 1992, Rep. and then Sen. Al Gore scored between 11 and 36. His composite average was 21, about half the overall Senate average and barely two-thirds of the Senate Democratic average. Despite his more conservative reputation, Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Lieberman is little better. His ratings between 1992 and 1999 ran from 8 to 26.
His overall average was 24, about half the Senate average (and a bit above the Senate Democratic average). But last year, Lieberman’s score was a dismal 8, barely one-sixth the Senate average.
In fact, the Gore-Lieberman ticket has been promising voters the world while trying to scrimp on the details. Admits economic adviser Alan Blinder: “numerology and campaign stump speeches don’t mix very well.”
Despite such studied legerdemain, Gore still can’t make the numbers work. Write Bob Davis and John McKinnon of the Wall Street Journal, the vice president “doesn’t have enough money to pay for all his campaign promises. So he’s adopted something of a now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t campaign style.” They add, “when campaign promises clash with budget restraints, he scales back the promises, but not necessarily the rhetoric.” Equally bad is how Gore wants to use the tax system to manipulate private behavior. Rather than adopting the fairest tax cut of all, an across-the-board rate reduction, he would give an estimated $500 billion only to people who do what the government wants them to do.
There is a bit more hope for the GOP nominees. Although Bush has not served in Congress, Moore and Slivinski produce a regular gubernatorial analysis. Between 1995 and 1998 candidate Bush scored 69 percent, compared to 50 percent for all governors and 53 percent for GOP governors. Dick Cheney did serve in Congress, and NTU judged him at between 50 and 70 from 1979 to 1988. His composite score was 63, well above the House average of 37 and the Republican congressional average of 52.
Alas, their extravagant campaign promises suggest that Bush and Cheney cannot be trusted to shrink government. But they are still mere pikers compared to Gore and Lieberman.
There are risky plans afloat in the presidential race. None is riskier than the idea of giving Al Gore the keys to the U.S. Treasury.
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