House Speaker Newt Gingrich calls his budget-busting tax cut proposal the "piece de resistance" and the "crown jewel" of his "Contract with America." All puns intended, we think the resistance to Mr. Gingrich's plan from millions of Americans demanding credible action to balance the budget deserves enthronement as a supreme example of good citizenship. One recent poll indicated that the electorate gives balancing the budget priority over tax cuts by 55 to 40 percent.
This can be taken as a signal that the taxpayers, having been burned once by Reaganomics, want no repeat of the borrow and spend policies that quadrupled the national debt in 12 years of Republican control of the White House. It also should be -- but alas is not -- a lesson to President Clinton that there is little political gain to be made by pandering to the voters with a watered down tax cut proposal of his own.
Because the citizenry is showing such prudence, the Republican leadership in the House has been forced by deficit hawks in its caucus to tie the implementation of any tax cuts this year to passage of spending reductions seemingly putting the budget on a glide path to balance by 2002. But to the dismay of deficit tTC hawks among the Democrats, the GOP budget-cutters were induced by Mr. Gingrich to jettison the key enforcement mechanism they first demanded -- namely, a requirement that the tax cuts in future years be rescinded if balanced-budget targets are not achieved.
This strikes us as a bit of gimmickry that can best be described as "Son of Gramm-Rudman." In the 1980s, Congress did the easy thing by promulgating so-called Gramm-Rudman deficit reduction targets which were routinely ignored.
What is wrong with both the Gingrich and the Clinton tax cut proposals is that they are simply irresponsible at a time when yearly deficits of $200 billion are projected as far as the eye can see.
As the House braces for a vote today or tomorrow, Republicans state quite frankly that they cannot afford a repeat of George Bush's reneging on his "no new taxes" pledge. Having enshrined a massive tax cut in the "Contract," they feel a necessity to pass one even as public opinion swings against such a course that makes no economic sense.
How much stronger the Democratic position would be if Mr. Clinton had responded to last November's GOP sweep with a gutsy assertion that he would not add to deficit woes by a so-called "middle class tax cut." But that is not the style of this president. He felt he, too, had to deliver on a reckless tax-cut campaign pledge of his own.
It is ironic that such savvy political animals as Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton failed to anticipate the eagerness of American citizens for an end to the deficit financing that endangers the future of their children and grandchildren. Perhaps, what they both need is a strong challenge from deficit hawks within their rival political structures.