Magazine article Insight on the News

Now, the Best Revenge Is to Play Hard by Their Rules

Magazine article Insight on the News

Now, the Best Revenge Is to Play Hard by Their Rules

Article excerpt

The holiday season is upon us, a time to gather with family and friends in the spirit of fellowship, to look back at the past year with thanks, to look forward to the promise a new year brings -- and to plot revenge against our political enemies.

Unfortunately for such right-wing types as myself, in holiday seasons past, plotting was about as far as we got. This year, however, looks to be different. Thanks to the change in power in Washington, we actually may be able to make the leap from plotting revenge to exacting it.

It is, of course, an awesome responsibility, one not to be taken lightly. If we seem like we are in any way enjoying this task, well, it's probably just the Christmas eggnog.

Here are two major areas to which we can look forward:

The president's budget will be "dead on arrival" -- that magical phrase from the 1980s that greeted just about every single Reagan administration budget when it arrived on Capitol Hill. The Democrats running the show there knew something that most Americans learned only recently: Congress calls the shots on government spending. The executive branch can propose all the cuts in spending it wants -- as was the case during the Reagan administration. Congress is free to ignore them at will.

It's interesting that a whole subsidiary mythology has sprung up around the question of where the power of the purse really lies. In answer to the charge that GOP administrations ran up the deficit with reckless abandon, Republicans have made the point tirelessly, over the years, that the president cannot spend a dime that is not appropriated by Congress. But this was viewed as a tad too exculpatory. And it is true that cutting spending and a return to the idea of limited government were not themes consistently sounded by the Bush administration, nor the second Reagan administration -- nor did the first Reagan administration go to the mat with Capitol Hill about spending.

But the subsidiary mythology holds that Republicans never wanted to cut spending in the first place. Ronald Reagan enjoyed "de facto" control of Congress, and he didn't even make good on his pledge to get rid of the Education Department.

No, no, no. There is a world of difference between "de facto" control and actual control. And there also may be a world of difference between GOP sentiment on spending cuts then and now. The point is that Republicans now are quite willing to cut federal spending. And they have the political power to do so, as the Clinton administration is about to find out.

Put it this way: The Clinton budget arrives on Capitol Hill, and the GOP majority says, "No, the Defense Department is going to have all the tanks it wants, and the National Endowment for the Arts is going to have to have a bake sale. …

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